Thursday, May 12, 2005
Protecting the Human Rights of Migrant Domestic Workers Employed by the Diplomatic Community
(Note: My friend in Geneva shared this short talk given by a Filipina at the Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns. I share it here because, so often, these issues affecting the lives of so many Filipinas escape my/our notice and consciousness).
Good afternoon, my name is L and I have been living here in Geneva for 20 years. I'm a Filipino, separated from my husband, and I have two daughters, 32 and 27 years old; they're both working in Tokyo right now.
Today, I would like to share with you some of my reflections based on real experiences either by me or my friends who work in the domestic sector of the foreign diplomats in Geneva.
THe first time I came here, I had no papers, considered what we call "undocumented" and I worked with a rich Lebanese family who made me work before everyone wakes up in the morning and until everyone sleeps at night, with only a few hours off in a week, and with a salary much lower than the minimum. Despite of that I stayed with them for 3 years.
In my search for an Employer who can give me a working permit, I stumbled onto a Sudan Diplomat working at the UN. We agreed that they they will try me for a month, and if they're contented with my work they will provide me with a Working Permit. The work is 4hours once a week in exchange for a working permit and a 120 Swiss Francs a month. But in 3 weeks that I worked with them, I think, that family thought I'm their slave; aside from the house work that's piling, the wife's attitude towards me is like an Army Commandant. To make the story short, I backed out from them.
It was in 1990 when I found a job with the family of an Iraqi Diplomat married to a Swiss woman. The salary was just half of what I got from my former rich employer, CHF 700, but because of the papers, I agreed to do all the job in their house from cleaning, to taking care of their children and cooking.
Then luck struck me when a job was offered in the house of an Ambassador. That's the work I kept until now. Though my salary is, I'm sure, lower compered to others with a work like mine, but with my patience I have stayed in this job until now. With my last Ambassador (he left for good last week), I am contented and happy with my work. Of all the Ambassadors that I have worked for, he is the best. My NO PROBLEM AMbassador.
Why I call him MY NO PROBLEM AMBASSADOR? Because every favor I asked ever since the first time he was here, his reply was always NO PROBLEM. I asked for a salary raise, he replied NO PROBLEM. I asked about my separation pay, the reply was NO PROBLEM. I asked permission to go out shopping, the reply was, again, NO PROBLEM. I was just afraid that if I asked him it is okay to quit my job and he will also reply NO PROBLEM.
Unlike the Ambassador before him, that when I asked for a raise, I got an answer like, YOU CAN GO AROUND AND LOOK FOR A JOB WHO CAN GIVE YOU THE SALARY YOU WANT. I just said THANK YOU and go to my room as fast as I could 'cause i can't help but cry. Since then, I felt like I'm ready to sulk in one corner each time I saw him.
Anyway, not all Diplomats are like my NO PROBLEM Ambassador, I hope and pray that this people, the other Diplomats could one be, if not 100% like my NO PROBLEM Ambassafor, but even if only 75%, that's already great and acceptable.
1. You see, those Diplomat Employers know that the Working Permits that they provide are very important to us, and some of them take advantage of that privilege accorded to them. I say only some of them, because while others are kind-hearted, you just can count on your fingers those who treat & see us as human beings. They want us to respect them, but do we get also the respect we deserve as individuals?
2. Most of them imposed on their Domestics the rules from their own country. And if their Domestics came from the same country as them, the salary they give is based on the rate from the country of origin because they said that theirs is also the same, both of which, are too low for the Swiss standards. But unlike the Diplomats, who get clothing allowance, food allowance and even transportation allowance, & lots of other allowances apart from their monthly salary, their Domestics only get the monthly salary. Imagine how expensive everything is here in Switzerland! For that low monthly salary, the working hours even exceeds the regular working hours here in Switzerland & I’m sure in other countries, too – and without any extra pay, without bonuses, or even 13th month pay.
3. In another case, a salary based from the country of origin, which is only equivalent to 1/6 of the salary imposed here in Switzerland, and with the promise to deposit the monthly salary of the Domestic Helper in her bank account in the country of origin. Sad to say, the Domestic found out that after 6 months, no salary has been deposited in her bank account. But then we know that Salary is not the major factor of Abuse; mental & physical abuse is the worst that can happen to someone working as a Domestic Helper.
4. Others are locked up inside the house so they can’t talk to their compatriots, so they won’t have any knowledge that what their Employers are doing to them is not right. This often results in physical enjuries. This is the case of another Filipina who fell down the window of a 4th floor building trying to escape from her employer who happens to be her relative, too. After many years she’s still here in Geneva because of her Medical treatment, but the case haven’t been solve yet.
5. The world sees the domestic job as the most lowly of all jobs, but is there anything, more depressing than to be raped by one’s employer? Can money bring back your dignity? You cannot even sue the Diplomat-rapist as his country recalled him from duty and what’s so depressing is they assigned him to another country with the same duty, as if nothing had happened. So you’re left alone with a part of your life shattered.
6. The most cases that we often don’t hear around, are the mental abuses, that even the ones working in the Missions & Embassies (they’re not the Diplomats), the Local Staffers are also victims. You do what the Boss wants even in the coldest winter snow or they’ll create stories to kick you out of your job, and worst of all, they don’t even respect the tenure of your job, not even giving you even a few days notice, they want you to be out of their sight right away, they do it. Well, that’s good enough, if they’ll compensate also the few years left ‘till you retire, but if you’re already near the age of retirement, who’s going to hire you again? Even if you’re still young at age, but the "no notice" at all will create hardships in your daily life and some of them did get physically bothered for sometime caused by stress and depression. All this results to abuses we all swallow and kept so not to lose that PRECIOUS WORKING PERMIT they provide us.
7. In Japan for example, some of the Diplomats there used the official Driver of the Ambassador or the Embassy, as helpers when they have parties without any extra pay, even an overtime pay. At the same time, you can’t complain because you want to keep your working permit.
The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs have passed a set of rules known as Directive on the Hiring of Private Servants by International Civil Servants (Diplomats & Higher UN Staffs). The Diplomats are the one who know the contents of that "Directive", while their employees doesn’t. Even if they know about the existence of this "Directive", most of them don’t follow what’s stated in there.
So if they have made their employees sign a contract stating facts not included, such as, when it comes to salary, lower than what is in the Directives, there already exists an intention of EXPLOITATION. Of course, we will sign what’s stated in the contract as we all know that the Working Permits are very important to us, but they’re the ones who know that what they’re doing is not right. I think, financial problems are only second to mental & physical abuse. We can still do our work even with a small salary as long as they treat us like human beings or best, like a family.
The above are only a few examples of various instances of exploitation, abuses and maltreatment, aside from unjust regard to the Domestic employment status.
The big and seemingly unanswerable question is: CAN WE STOP THIS ABUSES & EXPLOITATION FROM HAPPENING?
The answer is in our hands.
If we just sulk in one corner thinking there’s nothing we can do, then we are the loser. This kind of attitude is like a malady, a CANCER that we have to avoid from happening rather than let it happen & damage our well-being.
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