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Domestic work is work - Why do many people still not get this?

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by IDWFED published May 15, 2015 12:00 AM
Who does what in the home is often a source of conflict among couples and families: who will cook the meals, wash the dishes, clean the house, do the laundry, take care of the kids, feed the pets, water the plants? The hiring of domestic workers, is in fact, often the easy way out for households experiencing conflicts over division of work within the home.

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Domestic work is work - Why do many people still not get this? | Rappler.com

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Many societies, including and perhaps, especially ours, still refuse to see and understand the complexity of having homes as workplaces. Not a few still view domestic workers as "katulong lang" (just helpers).

Now, imagine being a "katulong lang" in some foreign land!

The home as private

We all grew up being told by our parents not to talk to strangers much less allow strangers to enter our homes. The home is private – for family only. Unlike typical workplaces that thrive on impersonal, transactional relationships, families are bound by kinship and intimate affinities. Thus, when non-family members enter, work and live in our homes, conflicts, if not complications often arise.

Domestic workers, however, are hardly strangers that simply enter homes uninvited: they are actually demanded by households. They fill the demand to sustain families, and thereby, economies and societies.

In Hong Kong, for example, the increase in the number of domestic workers can be directly linked to the country's emergence in the 1980s as a "global city" (to use the sociologist Saskia Sassen's term) and an important hub for corporate travel and international tourism.

The demand for hired domestic work, especially for childcare, grew exponentially as more and more couples/parents became part of Hong Kong's expanding labor market. Hong Kong then even had to import labor to meet the increased demand for domestic work. According to the Asian Migrant Centre (AMC), in the '70s, there were only 2,000 Filipino workers in Hong Kong, equivalent to roughly 10% of the 20,959 legally registered foreign workers. By the year 2000, the number of domestic workers in Hong Kong ballooned to 202,900, 73% of whom were Filipinos, 23% Indonesian, 3% Thai and 1% other nationalities. To date, there are 340,000 domestic workers in Hongkong, 290,000 or 85% of whom are migrant workers. Of these, 120,000 or 41% are Filipinos.

Worldwide, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are 52.6 million domestic workers, representing an increase of more than 19 million since the mid-1990s. Domestic work is thus largely about the demand and supply for a particular kind of labor.

Who does what in the home is often a source of conflict among couples and families: who will cook the meals, wash the dishes, clean the house, do the laundry, take care of the kids, feed the pets, water the plants? The hiring of domestic workers, is in fact, often the easy way out for households experiencing conflicts over division of work within the home.

And there lies a very basic problem.

Many of us still view domestic work as a "bother" or a distraction from the "real work" of having professions and earning incomes. This view springs from an even more fundamental notion that there is a "natural" divide between productive and reproductive work. The work that produces goods and services is the only type of work that can be considered "productive." The work that nurtures people and reproduces societies is unproductive and therefore should not be considered as "work."

Because it is not work, it is not supposed to be valuated in the same way that "productive" work is valuated; that is, it is not to be compensated as much or accorded the same rights.

Because of these views, domestic workers end up doing all the housework, for very meager pay. Just check out your neighborhood and you are likely to still find domestic workers who work 24/7, are given "separate" meals and provided very shabby living conditions.

Needless to say, domestic workers are among the lowest paid of workers. The legislated minimum wage of P2,500.00 a month can hardly be considered as just compensation or decent pay given the volume of work and level of difficulty that domestic work entails. Even with the law stipulating that meals, lodging and social security benefits be provided on top of the minimum wage, the fact of the matter is, P2,500.00/month roughly translates to less than P100/day. It is hard to believe that cooking, cleaning, taking care of kids are worth only that.

Simply put, domestic workers are often taken for granted, even abused. Hard as it may be to believe, nowadays, one can still find even the most devout of Catholics or the most progressive of Leftists treating their domestic workers as slaves, not as workers.

Source: Carmel V. Abao/Rappler.com

Story Type: News

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