The Philippine Househelp: will it still be a benefit

One of the things I do not have the benefit of having since moving to Australia is the opportunity of having househelp to help in the home chores. Not that they don’t exist only they are so expensive to hire only the very rich can afford to do this. Most expats living in the Philippines will find having househelp the business perk that will make living there equal to living a lifestyle of the rich and famous.

The availability of househelps in the Philippines is due to an abundance of people lacking work as the main reason making even middle class and lower income families to afford to have one. In some cases out of necessity but more just to help out a relative or someone recommended by a next of kin. For most FIlipinos, getting a househelp was never a strictly an employment proposition. For my parents, they gave up on having one after they keep on leaving for greener pastures. While the last one stayed almost 10 years with us, it was more due to the lack of a better offer. Eventually, my mother ended the relationship when she went on vacation for a couple months during a busy period and returned only to ask a higher wage than what we could afford. Still, the benefits of having a househelp are immense when I compare my home living here. The question is whether it will be only a benefit available for the very rich if this bill passes into law. It may be a blessing in disguise.

From BusinessWorld Philippines

September 13, 2012

No to Kasambahay Bill

By Jemy Gatdula
Beth Day Romulo has this marvelous book Inside the Palace (published by GP Putnam’s Sons, 1987), a colorful, witty insider’s look in the goings-on in Malacañang during 1970s and up to the early ’80s. But it also provides an interesting peek on how life was during that era and of the people that lived it.

Thinking of the Kasambahay Bill (which provides greater rights for household helpers), one particular passage of Ms. Day Romulo’s book came to mind: “Servants [in the Philippines] consider their employers ‘masters,’ and the relationship is far more personal than that of American or European help and their employers. Once the ‘master’ has taken a maid or houseboy into his family, he is in effect responsible… [for everything, ‘from heart attacks to broken hearts’] that no Western employer would be expected to deal with.”

And she insightfully goes on: “The relationship between servant and master or mistress is not all roses… The little maids who flood into Manila from their parents’ farms in the provinces are apt to be pleasant and honest, but also untrained, inefficient, unmotivated — and clumsy.”

And from that one can understand my problem with the almost inevitable Kasambahay Law (presently House Bill No. 6081). I’ve always believed, to paraphrase Cardinal Newman, that “we have rights precisely because we have responsibilities.” I do not see the merit of providing a group of people with extra rights just because politicians want to feel good about themselves or look good to the voters.

Why should household help, generally untrained as they are, a good number of which work lazily or with a bad attitude, be rewarded an array of rights while having done nothing yet to deserve them? Rewards are given for good work done, never in the hope that they will do it. And ordinarily in this country, maids that are found working well are compensated generously anyway, even moving on to have businesses of their own.

The Kasambahay Bill is actually an assault on that one sector of society that needs to be protected and nurtured if this country is ever to prosper: the middle-class. However, with proposals that household help be given minimum wage (not even mandatorily required by the ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers), plus 13th month pay, that they can’t (unlike confidential employees) be dismissed as needed by the employer, easy access (but without need for accountability) to dispute settlement, and so on just made it harder for the middle class to maintain household help. Only the rich can now afford to do so.

But the Kasambahay Bill also inordinately benefits the poor at the expense of the middle-class. Let’s face it, a lot of these maids are hired more out of charity by the employer (who most likely can do without them) than for their qualifications. But, aside from the fact that our culture demands that employers treat their household help as members of the family, suddenly they now have to be paid and treated like professionals as well. Now, that’s all obviously well and good. But only if these servants act like professionals themselves and be held accountable if they don’t.

But the Kasambahay Bill instead romanticizes household helps, thus practically containing no (actually none at all) workable provision that protects the interests of the middle class employer. Think of the situation wherein the middle class employer has to advance the transportation expenses of the maid, only to have that maid suddenly disappear upon arriving in Manila. Or of that maid abruptly leaving because she just got bored with her work or got rightfully reprimanded or was summoned back to the provinces because her parents impulsively got a sudden attack of sentimentality and missed her? What about the untold number of appliances, utensils, gadgets that they break, clothes ruined, cars scratched, food spoiled? What about those instances reported in the newspapers of maids or houseboys robbing or killing their employers?

What relief can a middle-class employer have? Hire lawyers and sue them? For what? Damages that they have no money to pay for anyway? If they disappear, will the police take the trouble to track them? Put them to jail on what charge and for how long must a trial go on before one gets justice?

I, for one, will consider to stop hiring any household help upon the passage of the Kasambahay Bill. On principle. Because I simply do not believe in the “paternalistic entitlement society” that our senators and congressmen are espousing. To paraphrase from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, I do not agree when our politicians tell our people: “Do not bother about wanting to work hard and acting with honor and integrity and ingenuity because we’ll take care of you.” True leaders never say they will take care of people. True leaders work to have people learn how to take care of themselves.

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