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Philippines/Hong Kong: The forgotten cost of domestic work

Philippines/Hong Kong: The forgotten cost of domestic work

published Aug 19, 2014 01:08 PM
Contributors: Anna Cummins and Mark Tjhung | TimeOut Hongkong
They care for our families and maintain our homes. Our city relies on them. But for many domestic helpers, leaving behind their own country comes with a huge trade-off.




Ivy Brunio: She is my mum, my best friend

"People thought we were rich because my mother was in Hong Kong, sending home money. My friends said I was lucky to be able to go to college, that we had a metal roof on our house – not everyone had that. I did feel like we were different from others in the village. But, I never felt like I was rich. They didn’t know how difficult it was, that I couldn’t be with my mum. They are the lucky ones, because they have a family – not like me. Sometimes, I envy them."

Ivy Brunio is sitting on a bench in the Mexican restaurant where she works in central Manila. She gets her phone out and shows us a Facebook image – a recent photo of her mother, Lori, smiling in a café in Hong Kong. Ivy doesn’t have internet in the small flat she shares with two friends nearby – ‘it’s too expensive’ – so she uses the free Wifi at work when she wants to speak with her mother, something she tries to do as often as possible. They’re clearly very close. As Ivy puts it,

“She is my mum, my best friend… all of my decisions go through her first.”

Ivy grew up in a small town in Bulan, Sorsogon, with two older siblings. When she was two years old, Lori moved to Hong Kong to be a domestic helper. Since then, Ivy has only seen her mother once every year. That was 22 years ago.

10 million OFWs around the world

It’s far from an unusual story. There are 10 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who work abroad in countries across the globe. These OFWs form 20 percent of the Philippines’ entire labour force and wire home a staggering US$22.76b every year – eight percent of the country’s GDP. It’s all an astonishing legacy of President Marcos’ Labor Code of 1974, which promoted overseas work as a way to boost the Philippines’ economy. Today, there are one million Filipinos leaving to work abroad every year, and that is rising. There are so many of them that the government has a special arm, the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration, to deal with them all. And for this massive contribution to the country’s economy the government gives them the collective moniker of ‘new heroes’.

Hong Kong: One of the most popular countries in Asia for overseas Filipinos

Half of the 320,000 helpers who work in Hong Kong today are from the Philippines – their good English and friendly nature make them a popular choice for families here. Despite the fact that there are regularly high profile stories in the media about helpers’ lack of rights, low pay and mistreatment, Hong Kong remains one of the most popular countries in Asia for overseas Filipinos, where they generally earn several times more than they could at home. The Philippines’ average salary is roughly half of the minimum $4,010 that a helper here earns every month, and the families who make up the poorest 10 percent of the Philippines take home around $1,000 per month per household. It’s clear why people feel the need to move away.

“Women definitely get this sense of peer pressure to work abroad,”

says Dr Nestor Castro, chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of the Philippines.

“There is an expectation that everyone is sending you off and relying on you to support them. Even women who are qualified teachers and nurses go to Hong Kong to be domestic helpers – they don’t care about the lower prestige of the work. It’s causing a real ‘brain drain’.”

Marian Bagdoc: Salary is barely enough to cover the rent

Marian Bagdoc is a 26-year-old nurse from Quezon City, near Manila. Her eight siblings and mother sit huddled around a television – it seems as though it’s the only luxury in their tiny house. Marian is the sole breadwinner. She tells us that she works 16-hour shifts in the hospital in order to earn 7,000 pesos ($1,200) every month – and even with her credentials as a nurse, her salary is barely enough to cover the rent and her younger sibling’s school fees. Her case is typical.

"We really need to explain the condition of our country. There is no opportunity here,"

says Garry Martinez, chairman of the NGO Migrante International, a global alliance of Filipino overseas migrant organisations. The Philippines’ effective unemployment rate is high – 27.5 percent – and one in four Filipinos live in poverty. This hardship is variously attributed to low wages (the minimum wage is between $37 and $82 per day), high birth rates, and the rampant practice of short-term, contractual labour.

“The government wants to encourage overseas work,”

says Father Robert Reyes, a Catholic priest known as ‘The Running Priest’ who campaigns on human rights issues.

“They make a sizeable chunk of the national income. But, it comes at a very high social cost – broken families, violence, girls getting pregnant at a young age. These emotional scars, the government doesn’t account for that.”

Read the original article in full: The forgotten cost of domestic help | Time Out Hong Kong

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Source: Anna Cummins and Mark Tjhung/Time Out Hong Kong

Story Type: Story

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