Philippines ratifies Domestic Work Convention;
C. 189 to be in force soon

August 6 , 2012


After much anticipation, the Philippines has finally ratified the Domestic Workers Convention on Monday.

Voting unanimously, the Philippine Senate approved on third reading, Resolution No. 816 concurring to the ratification of ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers by President Benigno S. Aquino III on May 18.

With the ratification, some 3.4 million domestic workers working in the Philippines and abroad will finally enjoy rights as other workers do, such as reasonable hours of work, weekly rest, correct wages and benefits, protection against abuse, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, and freedom of association, among others.

In 2010 alone, according to the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the Philippines deployed a record 154,535 domestic workers, mostly women, to the Middle East, Europe and to neighboring Hong Kong and Singapore. Domestic workers comprise 45 per cent of the total deployment of workers, clearly surpassing the number of professional and skilled workers who get to work abroad.

Under Philippine laws, the Upper Chamber of the bicameral Congress—the Senate, needs to concur with all international treaties signed into by the Executive Branch for these to be in effect.

The Philippines is the second ILO-member country to ratify the Domestic Workers Convention, following the ratification of Uruguay of C. 189 earlier this year. With two ratifications, the Convention comes into force.

“The ratification of the Senate of ILO Convention 189 is a historic declaration of emancipation of domestic workers from slavery like treatment of their employers and society, it can be likened to Abraham Lincoln's declaration of emancipation of the negroes,” said Atty. Sonny Matula, President of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW)

The world watches the Philippines

The Philippines has been at the center of the world’s attention following the Philippine government's much-lauded chairmanship of the International Labor Conference (ILC) Committee on Domestic Work in 2010 and 2011, that conducted deliberations on the new international standard. This led to the unanimous adoption of the Convention and its accompanying Recommendation on June 16 last year. It committed to be one of the first countries to ratify the international instrument. While Uruguay beat them to it, it has still earned the distinction of being the first ILO member-country in Asia to ratify the same.

“More than 60 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and more than 80 years since the ILO Convention on Forced Labour was passed, domestic workers will finally see the light of day,” said Matula of the FFW, who is affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The FFW is an active member of the Philippine Technical Working Group (TWG) on the Promotion of Decent Work for Domestic Workers that spearheaded the campaign for the ratification of C. 189 and continues to advocate for a National Domestic Workers Law. The TWG bring together unions, domestic worker groups, migrant NGOs, the government’s labor department and even employers.

“By recognizing that decent work principles should be embedded in domestic work, the Philippines and the world are finally coming to terms with its humanity. Workers' rights and decent work should not be limited to certain types of workers only, but to all kinds of workers,” added Matula.

Protection for migrant workers

Since the rapid increase in the deployment of domestic workers abroad in the 1990s, the country has continued to receive news about the abuse of domestic workers abroad. This was highlighted by the hanging of Flor Contemplacion in 1995 in Singapore over accusations that she murdered a fellow Filipina domestic worker.

The incident created a national outrage, prompting the Philippines to ratify the UN Convention on Migrant Workers’ Rights and pass into law the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act the same year.

While these acts have provided for better protection of migrant domestic workers, the illegal trafficking in persons, especially of women and children, and their abuse in the hands of cruel employers persist. The danger is compounded as Filipina domestic workers get in harm’s way as they are caught in the crossfire in war-torn countries in the Middle East, such as Syria.

Abuse of local domestic workers

At the local front, domestic workers are not spared from abuse. In a privilege speech more than a week ago by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, he presented a domestic worker, who was repeatedly abused by her employer.

Bonita Baran was hired by her employer when she was still a child in 2006. She gets beaten by a broom and gets smashed by plates whenever her employer is dissatisfied with her.

The physical abuse slowed her down over the years, earning the ire of her employer even more. Her forehead and nose were “ironed” and she got punched in the eye, causing her to lose sight in the left eye and getting here teeth knocked out. Her face has assumed the figure of a cauli flower.

She gets kicked around, stabbed by a pair of scissors and choked.

It was only a few weeks ago, when she mustered enough courage to escape her employer and get protection from the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Loren Legarda, author of the Senate Resolution concurring ratification to C. 189 revealed that in Cebu, a province in central Philippines, the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported that 80 per cent of the reported victims of rape, attempted rape, and other acts of sexual abuse involved child domestic workers.

The sorry tales gave more reason to the Senate to ratify C. 189 and urged the lower House of Congress to finally pass the Domestic Workers Bill. Its counterpart Bill in the Senate has been passed two years ago. In previous Congresses over the past 15 years, the Senate has been able to pass a Domestic Workers Bill, but the Lower House has failed to do the same.

The ratification of the Convention gives the impetus to legislate national laws consistent with the provision of the Domestic Workers Convention. The Philippines has been widely regarded as a leader in the promotion of the rights and welfare of domestic workers. Several regional and international conferences on domestic work and migration—government and civil society organized, have been held in the country over the years. Its programs, initiatives and policies have been used as models by a lot of migrant-sending countries.



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