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Potential avenues for domestic employer-worker solidarity in the Philippines

From passive observers to active members in the fight for domestic workers rights, domestic employers in the Philippines may have gone a long way, but more work needs to be done.

Policy debate

Can employers be allies in the fight for domestic workers' rights?

We asked experts in the field of domestic workers' rights to respond to the following: 'Can employers be allies in the fight for domestic workers' rights?' This is what they answered.

Respondents

Claire Hobden & Moriah Shumpert
International Labour Organization

Saba Waheed & Lucero Herrera
UCLA Labor Center

Bridget Anderson
University of Bristol

Andrea Londoño
Fundación Bien Humano

Elizabeth Tang & Marie-José L. Tayah
International Domestic Workers Federation

Julius Cainglet & Ronahlee Asuncion
Federation of Free Workers & University of Philippines Diliman

Rosa Navarro & Mechtild Hart
Latino Union & DePaul University

Ilana Berger
Hand in Hand

Photo by Jennifer N. Fish.

There are close to two million domestic workers in the Philippines, yet most labour laws in the country explicitly exclude domestic workers in their coverage. After the establishment of a minimum wage law for domestic workers in the 90s, it took decades before another special law was passed for them.

Republic Act No. 10361 (or Batas Kasambahay) was enacted on January 2013 for the protection and welfare of domestic workers in the country. It provides for minimum wage rates that may be increased periodically, mandatory social protection coverage, weekly days off, and written contracts of employment, among others. However, it has been five years since this law was passed and Filipino domestic workers still face the same problems and issues, such as payment below the minimum wage; excessive work hours; working at night; the non-coverage of social protection; and the non-application of domestic work laws for live-out domestic workers. 

At the end of the day, it is employers who pay domestic workers, determine their work hours, provide social protections, and carry the responsibility to adhere to domestic work and labour laws. This then raises the question of whether employers can be allies in the struggle for the rights of domestic workers.

Employers need to start with changing the way domestic work is perceived. There is little respect and dignity (if at all) accorded to this profession. Paid domestic work is often taken for granted and perceived as work for unskilled workers. Traditional social norms reinforce these perceptions and shape the way employers think about domestic work. Paid domestic work is usually performed by women who have not completed primary or secondary school education and who come from poor families in the provinces. In ‘Moving Towards Decent Work for Domestic Workers: An Overview of the ILO’s Work’, D’Souza explains the ‘atypical’ employment relationship between domestic workers and employers due to the invisible nature of domestic work; the unequal balance of power between employers and workers; the prevalence of paternalist attitudes across the board; the lack of precise job descriptions; and the expectation that domestic workers should obey their employers’ orders at all times.

Employers cannot be allies in the fight for domestic workers’ rights unless they truly believe that their workers deserve these rights in the first place.

It should come at no surprise then, that changing the mindset of employers towards recognising the immense value of domestic labour to the overall well-being of the employer’s family is a crucial first step for domestic employer-worker solidarity. Employers cannot be allies in the fight for domestic workers’ rights unless they truly believe that their workers deserve these rights in the first place. 

Employers, at least in the Philippines, have been known to change their mind for the better. Back in 2011, when the possibility of adopting labour standards for domestic work was raised anew at the International Labour Conference in Geneva, employers from the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) were inclined to support a mere non-binding recommendation. The following year, however, employers – with much prodding from trade unions, civil society organisations and domestic workers themselves – changed their position to support a binding convention. This was partly because trade unions made them realise that respecting the rights of domestic workers in the Philippines would give the country the needed leverage to demand respect and care for the rights of Filipino domestic workers abroad. Hence, the employers supported a tripartite Philippine position on the establishment of a new Convention. Getting employers to agree with trade unions was crucial since the government of the Philippines was chair of the ILO Committee deliberating on new labour standards for domestic work. The knowledge that it had the support of both trade unions and employers enabled the government to steer the discussion towards a much needed international convention on domestic work. This later became ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

The government of the Philippines also has the responsibility to ensure that the rights of domestic workers are protected domestically. Labour laws in require the labour inspection of enterprises for adherence to general labour standards and occupational safety and health standards. However, employers invoke that their homes – where domestic workers perform their work – are private homes, not enterprises, and should therefore not subjected to labour inspections. But the reality is that their homes are the workplaces of domestic workers. Employers should welcome labour inspectors in their residences, especially if the labour inspectors are acting on a complaint.

The reality is that their homes are the workplaces of domestic workers.

It is encouraging that in the Philippines, employers who once relegated themselves as mere observers to the Philippine Campaign to Promote Decent Work for Domestic Workers Technical Working Group (Domestic Work TWG) took on full membership before the ILO’s adoption of C189, and eventually took a secretariat role in the same, several years later. Among others, the Domestic Work TWG that also includes trade unions such as the Federation of Free Workers, Sentro and Trade Union Congress of the Philippines; and domestic workers’ groups such as United and Taumbahay successfully campaigned for the ratification of C189 in the Philippines in 2012 and the enactment of Batas Kasambahay in early 2013.

The Philippines is also a signatory to ILO Convention 144 on Tripartite Consultations and even enacted a law on Tripartism, ensuring that the government always consults with both workers and employers when discussing labour and employment laws and policies. This definitely includes domestic work, and offers an important avenue for domestic employer-worker solidarity.

In the end, employers are in a unique position to ensure that the rights of domestic workers are protected. Given the right conditions and an enabling environment such as ease in registering domestic workers with social protection institutions and paying for their premiums; systematic registering with the local government as provided by law; and a culture that completely disengages domestic work from its roots in slavery, this could be done. Decent work for all workers is everyone’s responsibility.

About the authors

Julius Cainglet is Vice President for Research, Advocacy and Partnerships of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW).

Ronahlee A. Asuncion, PhD is currently the Dean of the School of Labor and Industrial Relations, University of the Philippines Diliman. She has conducted researches related to domestic work.

Read On

'Domestic workers speak: a global fight for rights and recognition' showcases the diversity and power of the domestic workers' rights movement. Featuring contributions from 23 worker-led groups, it details the struggle of domestic workers, explores their solidarity and methods of resistance, and calls for comprehensive rights for the world's most invisible workforce.
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