The Price of Servitude

By Alexa H. BacayFebruary 25, 2018

Know – and follow – the provisions of the Kasambahay Law

WE ENTRUST THEM with the intricacies of our daily lives. They know our habits, our food preference, how our clothes smell after a full day’s work, how we eat, our daily dealings with the other family members, probably even how our breaths smell like. In fact, our ‘kasambahay’ probably know us more than we know ourselves, and yet some, if not most, treat them as an outsider – an ‘alipin’ or a slave.

This sector, often the most overlooked, has suffered for years from getting below minimum pay for services rendered without a specific number of hours agreed upon prior to employment. Worse, there is no guarantee for a secure future or at least a worry-free retirement with mandatory benefits that normal employees enjoy.

The issue was put into light in 2009, when a domestic technical working group was established to bridge the gap between domestic workers and their employers. The Federation of Free Workers (FFW) was one of the unions that chaired the group, and helped domestic workers to reach out to employers to establish a new standard for decent work for the later.

In 2010, at the International Labor Conference in Geneva, the Philippines was put in the spotlight as the country chaired the discussion of the possibility of setting new standards with regards to the working conditions of domestic workers.

Two years later, in September 2012, the Philippines became the second country to ratify the ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. This allowed the first global standard for these workers to come into force, aiming to benefit at least 2.5 million household help in the country. It created a legal obligation for the Philippines to observe the principles embodied in the Convention, both in law and practice.

“According to the formation of the convention, it needs to be ratified by member states. It will take effect after the second ratification, so [it was] historic because in September 2012 it was ratified by the Philippines — only the second country to ratify it — therefore by virtue it will be enforced all over the world,” said Julius Cainglet, vice president for Research, Advocacy and Partnerships of FFW.

Carrying from the momentum of the ratification, what followed then was the signing into law by then President Benigno S. Aquino III on Jan. 18, 2013 of Republic Act No. 10361 or the Act Instituting Policies for the Protection and Welfare of Domestic Workers, otherwise known as the Domestic Workers Act or Batas Kasambahay. It took 18 years for Congress to pass this law.

Five years later, most domestic workers might still be in the dark about the benefits that they should be receiving from their employers. We list down five of the most important provisions of the Batas Kasambahay:


Better salary

When the law was passed in 2013, the minimum wage for household workers started with P2,500. It has since then been increased to a minimum of P3,000 to P3,500, with domestic workers now having the right to ask for a better pay.

Some labor groups however, such as the United Domestic Workers of the Philippines (United), aims for a higher payout via a new CBA which they hope would be included in the next amendment of the Kasambahay Law. According to Maia Montenegro, deputy secretary general of United, a better pay would discourage domestic helpers from seeking jobs abroad, and leave their families.


Mandatory Rest

Household workers are entitled to 24 hours or one whole day of rest. According to Cainglet, it was recommended to have continuous eight hours rest, but this was not feasible as the workers are asked to wake up very early, and allowed to rest very late at night.

While eight hours of continuous rest would have been ideal, this resulted to aggregate rest instead. He reminds the public that according to the existing civil code, household help should only do 10 hours of work daily.


Written contract

There should be a written contract written in a language that the domestic worker understands. The contract should include the kasambahay’s duties and responsibilities, the period of employment, the compensation, and the number of working hours.


Required benefits

A domestic worker is entitled to Social Security System (SSS), Pag-Ibig, and PhilHealth contributions to be paid by the employer if the worker’s salary is below P5,000.

“The problem with this is that some domestic workers would rather receive the premium payment in cash. But with this set-up, they end up not paying the social fees,” observed Cainglet. “It’s not a complete improvement, because if you have an employer-employee relationship, your set-up should be formal. However some employers probably don’t feel like filing as employer so they end up just giving money to the domestic worker and just pay as self-employed. This presents a problem – if you file as self-employed, you won’t be able to enjoy the benefits of employee’s compensation benefits, which states that if you get injured or something happens in the course of doing your work, you get compensated through the employee’s compensation commission because you’re paying. You do not get that if you’re self-employed.”


Due Process

Cainglet added that illegal termination has always been a problem, but now there’s a process in place. The domestic worker can ask for due process, and establish the validity of termination. If proven that the employee is not at fault, the employer can’t ask the domestic worker to pay in full. Workers may file their complaints at the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE).

While the law has been in place for the last five years, Cainglet said that some changes are in order to improve it. For instance, stay out domestic workers should also be given the same benefits as those of their stay in counterparts. He added that maternity leave should also be recognized. Moreover, the country’s domestic workers could also benefit in a Pambansang Day Off where the kasambahay will be allowed one day to register, pay, and apply for SSS, Philhealth and Pag-Ibig.


Employer’s Take

Although the Kasambahay Law is generally a step forward towards the recognition of what’s considered to be the country’s most neglected members of society, some employers have expressed valid concerns regarding the bill.

In private Facebook group Glam-O-Mommas, which has over 12,000 mommy members from all over the country, some doubts were raised about the Law, saying it lacked provisions to protect employers as well from erring domestic helpers.

“From what I know, the Kasambahay Law is supposed to give protection to both the employers and the kasambahay. What seems to be happening though is that the benefit is one-sided — the kasambahay get their SSS, PhilHealth, etc, but there seems to be no ‘real’ protection for employers when their kasambahay break the rules, steal, hurt the child, etc. And many still do not have valid identification documents and have the guts to complain and demand higher pay. So because of this, even if as employers want to be protected by asking for NBI/ police clearance, we sometimes just take the risk and hire someone even if the requirements are incomplete. I also feel that while the law has very good intentions, however the implementation is not properly executed. When I first registered my yaya for SSS, etc., I filled up the ‘unified form’ which is supposed to cover registration for all three agencies. Turns out, the systems were not connected and I still had to go to each agency individually. And I guess having easy access to IDs or legal documents would also help but some don’t even have NSO birth certificates,” said member Kristine Cadoc-De Guzman.

Noelle Barrios, also shared another valid point: “Under the law, they want us to treat the domestic helpers like (company) employees when they don’t really work that way. Most employers don’t request for exit clearance from previous work due to high demand, so really, the helpers are not pressured to leave the employer in a nice and decent way. I just think being bonded will make things fair for both employers and kasambahay because based from experience, most helpers leave without due notice.”

The law also brought to light alarming, yet seemingly rampant concerns regarding some domestic helpers’ professionalism.

“They have the right to go on once a week day off for 24 hours, which is fine, but most don’t even return on time, making working employers miss their work because they don’t have a sense of responsibility towards their job,” said Karen Lim.

Then there’s also the issue of cash advances: “The Kasambahay Law is somewhat unfair for the employers. The law should also protect employers as well from helpers who are abusive of the cash advances and will just go/exit anytime they want, but when they need something like cash advance we employers should adjust on their needs since they know that we need their services. There should also be provisions for conduct in the Kasambahay Law,” said another mom member, Cristina Angela.

Despite all these room for improvements, it cannot be denied that domestic helpers play an important role not only in the community, but in our families as well. Regular employees working in an actual office often complain at the slightest provocation. Meanwhile, domestic workers serve longer hours to make sure employers have clean underwear, home-cooked meals, and a spic-and-span house among other tasks they are required to do.

In the end, what would they get in return for a lifetime of servitude? Surely, honoring the Batas Kasambahay is the least we can do for the manang or inday who picks up our mess.