Tuesday, April 08, 2008

If Anyone REALLY cared about protecting domestic helpers...

I saw on Dave's blog yesterday that the Philippines has begun allowing helpers back into Jordan. It's strange to be in such an ambivalent position on the topic. I'm glad for the helpers and their families (who have such limited options to earn income) and yet sad that so many are being placed in danger. HelperBean and I went to the consular office for the Philippines to process her paperwork before a visit home and found very nice girls "volunteering" there. These would be some of the 200+ workers who have left their families for a variety of reasons. One very sweet girl we met left the family that expected her to work from 5 am to 1 am every day and then failed to pay her. She said many of the others also left due to a failure to pay salary. Some were raped or abused, some were beaten. How frightening it must be to leave home and journey thousands of miles for a job knowing that there is no way to predict your fate... And, so I propose a method of improving the situation.

For those of you who may not be aware, there is a program in the US called the Au Pair program. This program allows people aged 18-26 to come live in the US. They provide "limited" (45 hours a week) care for children in exchange for a small salary and room/board. In order to take part in the program, the potential hiring family must be screened by the sponsoring company. They come and view the physical accommodations for the au pair, they monitor the au pair's situation, and they have periodic meetings of all the au pairs in a specific region. In this way, they try to ensure that the family and au pair match is working and the au pair is in good shape.

If we're really serious about improving the conditions of foreign domestic workers in Jordan, I think we need a program like this. We need something administered by someone other than the agencies that currently recruit the workers (which seem to all be skirting the dark side of the law both in the Philippines and here). Someone should really be interested in these workers. Someone should really care and have the ability to remove a worker and re-place them or send them home at the employer's expense if they are in an unsafe or inappropriate situation. You, know, if we REALLY cared...

Happy foreign exchange!

10 Comments:

At 2:25 AM , Blogger Hani Obaid said...

One of our previous maid told us horror stories about what an earlier employer did. They made her sleep on the floor. They wouldn't let her use hot water to shower. They wouldn't let her talk to her family (even at her expense). they gave her one meal a day which was barely enough to keep her healthy.

Good point, the recruitment offices only worry about getting their money so it wouldn't make sense to have them do that kind of inspection. Not that they're even required to do it! The Jordanian government doesn't really care since they're not doing a good job prosecuting the offending families. The only thing I can think of is if the Philippines embassy imposed a law where they have to contact the maid and make sure everything is ok once a month for the first 3 months.

 
At 3:38 AM , Anonymous Dave said...

MommaBean, I love this post and I love the idea. But the problem is we don't care. And by "we", I don't mean "me".

 
At 7:47 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Hani, thanks. The horror stories are never-ending and it sounds like your helper's previous families weren't even that bad in the scheme of things.

Dave, indeed that's my tongue-in-cheek point. Solutions are out there, we (also not meaning me) just don't really care. That's truly what I find SO sad.

 
At 7:05 PM , Blogger Summer said...

i think the governments of the foreign maids and the local labor office in the host countries should work together and put rules for the employment of those women, such as treat them like human beings!
the agencies are really the worst in providing any help for those helpless poor women. they are money hungry! there has to be someone who takes care of those women's affairs, such as providing a hotline or something like that...i do not know what to say, but if there is a will to improve the conditions and working environment of the workers, there is a way i believe.
really good post that touches the lives of many of us who have house help.

 
At 12:33 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Thanks Summer. I think what frustrates me most is the lack of the will... It's a shame.

 
At 3:01 AM , Blogger Nicole said...

I have always thought there should be some kind of home inspection done when people apply. The sleeping arrangements should be approved by the inspectors as well as a supply of clothing, etc. (Yes, I know it can all be faked, but it should scare people a little to know they are accountable for these facilities.)

The girls should also know the type of home they are going to live in and should even be given the choice if they like that situation or not. I mean the workers do not know if they are being hired as a nanny, as a cleaner, as an elderly hospice care worker, etc. Why shouldn't all foreign workers have the knowledge of the situation they should expect in Jordan or the UAE or Saudi, etc. Isn't this an occupation?

 
At 6:19 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Nicole, very true. There's no telling what they are getting in to. In fact, employers can go and look through books of pictures and such and "order" a specific person. But ther worker doesn't have the same matching ablity...

 
At 1:50 PM , Blogger Simple Answer said...

Excuse my naive question, but as an American whose husband has applied for a position in Jordan, what are the expectations for what a worker should do? And does it bug you to have another person living in your home?

 
At 11:40 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Simple, drop me an e-mail at mommabean at windowslive dot com and I'd be happy toprovide a nice detailed answer. In short, our helper does the cooking and cleaning and watches the children after school. And, having someone live with you is always a challenge, but it is less obtrusive than a pervious live-in nanny I had in the past.

 
At 5:40 AM , Blogger Darla The Explorer said...

I'm American and I'll be coming to Jordan as an live in nanny. Any advice?

 

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