LOCAL domestic workers or kasambahays have bonded together by launching the federation United Domestic Workers of the Philippines (UNITED) to ensure that their rights are followed and that they have humane working conditions, which are all stipulated in two landmark laws passed by the government in the past three years.
Almost 200 kasambahays formally established the UNITED in its founding assembly held today at the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, which was highlighted by the ratification of their Constitution and by-laws as well as the election and induction of the federation officers.
The founding delegates came from four area association chapters – Murphy, Sitio Veterans, Payatas and Roxas District, all in Quezon City – that were organized first as a quasi-cooperative that encourages members to regularly allocate a portion of their salary to save in a bank.
Though not yet a full-fledged trade union, UNITED could be considered a milestone in the efforts to organize all types of workers, including those in the informal sector that are not only highly scattered but mostly work as contractuals or have occasional jobs, the national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), said.
“Newly organized workers, whether in unions or associations or cooperatives, are always a cause for celebration, more so if they come from a sector long known or deemed as ‘unorganizable,’” SENTRO added.
Further motivating the organizing of the kasambahays was when the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 189 (C189) or the “Decent Work for Domestic Workers” was signed by Malacañang on May 18, 2012 and approved by the Senate on the following Aug. 6, making the Philippines the second country in the world – after Uruguay in June that year – to ratify this groundbreaking social legislation.
Adopted during the ILO’s 100th International Conference last June 16, 2012, the C189 and its supplementary Recommendation 201 (R201) finally and formally recognized the rights of all domestic workers by formulating a new global standard for protecting them, especially the migrant domestic workers or those who work abroad.
C189’s “local counterpart” followed soon, when the different “kasambahay bills” of the Senate and House of Representatives were consolidated in Nov. 2012 and enacted into law when Malacañang signed it on Jan. 18, 2013 as the Republic Act (RA) No. 10361 or “An Act Instituting Policies for the Protection and Welfare of Domestic Workers.”
Commonly called “Kasambahay Law,” RA 10361 intends to provide basic labor rights and legal protection to almost 2 million domestic workers in the country or those working in private households as all-around househelp, children’s nanny or yaya, nurse-maid or sort of a caregiver to elderlies, cook, gardener, laundryperson, cleaner, errand boy/girl, etc.
Government data show that the country’s domestic workers (DWs) have grown from 1.2 million in 2001 to about 1.9 million in 2010. Likewise, it is believed that an overwhelming majority of them are women or young girls.
According to the ILO report “Domestic workers across the world” released in Jan. 2013, most of the DWs in the Philippines are “overworked and underpaid.” In 2010, they work an average of 52 hours a week, the 7th longest among 39 countries surveyed by the ILO, and “higher than the globally accepted statutory limits on working time of 40 and 48 hours a week.”
Majority of the kasambahays are also poorly paid with a national average equal to merely “43.8 percent of the average incomes of the country’s total paid workers,” placing the Philippines to No. 11 among 22 surveyed countries with the widest wage gap for domestic workers.
Aside from hard work, low salaries and virtually zero benefits, many kasambahays also suffer from various forms of maltreatment, including verbal abuse, physical violence and sexual assaults.
As early as 2013, the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), while lauding the passage of C189 and RA 10361, has stated that to guarantee their full implementation and to raise further the rights of the kasambahays, they must eventually organize into associations or unions.
The domestic workers’ organizations should of course be integrated sooner or later into the mainstream trade union or labor movement, added the APL, a SENTRO member.