“Mapalad ka at nakarating ka sa abroad (You’re lucky you got to work abroad),” many people have shared with me this sentiment every time I visit the Philippines. Every year, the Philippine government hands out the Bagong Bayani (New Heroes) Award promoting Filipinos working abroad as Dakilang Manggagawa (Great Filipino Worker) representing the wealth abroad and limitless opportunities overseas (Marketing Dreams, Manufacturing Heroes, Guevarra, p 55).
However, if you scratch just below the surface, you would find the cracks in the manufactured image of the overseas Filipino as a ‘hero’. You would see the many risks and dangers many workers faced as they leave the country out of desperation to seek opportunities abroad (Guevarra, p 58).
In August 2010, I’ve met Ate Lolit of the Pilipino Workers Center in Los Angeles, CA. She works with Filipino caregivers in the Los Angeles area providing them with basic services including food staples from their food pantry. But most of all, she organizes them to protect their rights including giving the workers safe working conditions, living wages, decent living conditions and access to quality health care.
I was shocked to find out Ate Lolit and the Pilipino Workers Center help many Filipino caregivers recover their hard-earned wages from employers who at times don’t give them their complete salaries.
“Ay naku! Hindi lang iyan! Minsan pa inaabuso pa sila ng amo nila! (Not only that, they are even abused by their employers),” Ate Lolit said. “We helped many Filipino caregivers that suffered through brutal, human trafficking conditions.”
I could not believe what she had told me! So I tried to find out for myself if it’s true. As I scratched just below the surface I found out that Ate Lolit’s experience helping abuses suffered by Filipino caregivers was not unique.
I did a quick Internet search and immediately found out three recent cases of abuses, risks and dangers Filipinos and other overseas workers faced in the US and in other countries:
1. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In August 2010, 350 Filipino teachers working in Louisiana filed a class action lawsuit against an international placement agency that abused many Filipino teachers. The lawsuit alleged that the agency charged the teachers exorbitant application fees and transportation and housing costs and demanded up to 30% of their salaries their first two years. “It was close to slavery,” said Mary Bauer, lead attorney in the lawsuit (USA Today News).
2. Kuwait. In August 2010, the New York Times reported that many Nepalese and Filipino domestic workers suffer abuse in the hands of their employers. With few legal protections against employers who choose not to pay servants, who push them too hard, or who abuse them, sometimes there is nothing left to do but run. The laws that do exist tend to err on the side of protecting employers, who often pay more than $2,000 upfront to hire the maids from the agencies that bring the women here (New York Times).
3. Jerusalem, Israel. In August 2010, 400 children of foreign workers, mostly Filipinos, who have no legal status in the country and are slated for deportation. Under the new Israeli guidelines, based on the length of time the children have been here and their integration in the education system, about 800 of the 1,200 in question are qualified to stay. Their parents and siblings will be entitled to temporary residence permits. The 400 who do not meet the criteria will have to leave (New York Times).
Ate Lolit may be right. Many Filipinos and other overseas workers suffer many risks and dangers working abroad and that the manufactured image of the Filipino worker as a ‘hero’ may not be all what it’s cracked up to be.