Philippine Domestic Workers` Bill up again for Congressional Committee Discussions

Supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the DomWork-TWG concluded on Monday a Writeshop on Kasambahay Bill otherwise known as “An Act Instituting Regulatory Policies for the Domestic Service Industry Thereby Establishing Standards of Protection to Promote the Welfare of Domestic Workers“ at The Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros, Manila. The group is composed of the tripartite actors involved in the advocacy towards the immediate ratification of C189 in the Philippines that includes the domestic workers` association Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Manggagawang Pantahanan sa Pilipinas, Inc. (SUMAPI), Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc., Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), DOLE, the Employers` Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) and the three major labor centers and confederations namely, the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), Federation of Free Workers (FFW) and Trade Union Confederation of the Philippines (TUCP). These groups, together with the Labor Education and Research Network and Global Network-Asia, also played a major role in the holding of the 2011 Asia Regional Conference on Domestic Work, which had as its central theme the immediate ratification of C189 in Asia.

The fundamental subjects and issues discussed during the writeshop include the following:

• Inclusion of the “control test“ principle in the definition of an employer;
• Compromise on leave benefits or entitlements such as Service Incentive Leave (5 days annually), Sick Leave and Paid Annual Leave (14 days annually);
• Prohibition on hazardous employment;
• Prohibition on the employment of minors as domestic workers provided that all domestic workers below the minimum age presently employed shall continue their employment as such within a period of three (3) years from the effectivity of the act and shall be entitled to the minimum wage and all the benefits prescribed therein;
• Medical assistance and appropriate rest period during recovery from injury or illness;
• Setting of the normal hours of work based on a previous 10-hour civil code stipulation as opposed to an international standard of 8-hour work a day if only to define the terms of “overtime“;
• Professionalization of domestic work through skills upgrading and training as certified and facilitated by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA);
• Fixing of minimum wage at Php 3,500 per month for domestic workers based in NCR, Php 3,000 for those in chartered cities and first class municipalities and at least Php 2,000 in other municipalities;
• The role of the Katarungang Pambarangay and DOLE Regional Offices in the settlement of disputes regarding domestic work;
• Provision of a “one-stop shop“ or unified payment mechanism as to social protection remittances involving the Social Security System, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth), and Pag-Ibig (Home Development Mutual Fund);
• Granting domestic workers the right to join and form trade unions aside from associations, NGOs and CSOs;
• DSWD`s role in accrediting NGOs and associations representing domestic workers;
• Creation of a Domestic Workers Council that will be mandated to monitor and facilitate the implementation of the law;
• Allotment of a 50 Million-peso budget for the eventual implementation of the law; and
• Proposed additional contents or features of an employment contract such as termination of employment by employer in case of insolvency or financial incapacity, “productivity“ pay or increases in terms of additional skills and training, period of probation, “overtime“ rate and holiday entitlements.

The finalization of the consolidated version of the House Bill is a fitting follow-up after several congressmen made a promise to offer the “Kasambahay“ Bill as a Christmas gift and urged the DOLE to expedite the endorsement of C189 as a treaty. Seen in another light, it may well be considered as a response to the complaint of SB 78 main author and sponsor Senator Jinggoy Estrada that “the passage of the bill is already long overdue.“ The delayed process is definitely hindering the Philippine Senate`s ratification of the domestic work convention as the process requires the passage of a counterpart law at the national level.

Last year, the Senate version of the bill already passed on third reading. Now, as DOLE Undersecretary Hans Cacdac is saying, the DomWork-TWG has to work hard to fast track the process of sub-committee deliberations and immediately reach for the mother Committee on Labor and Employment. The TWG cautioned that significant safeguards might be altered fundamentally if the bill has to pass the sub-committee level in a prolonged period of time, which would take several meetings to finish.

In spite of the apparent concessions and compromises reached by the group, the APL however believes that domestic workers should not be forced to surrender the “equal treatment“ principle that they have fought for and earned with the passage of C189 last June this year. “Domestic workers as workers should enjoy the same rights and privileges as their counterparts in the formal sector have,“ Josua Mata, APL Secretary General said. For instance, the normal period of work should be made at par with those of formal sector workers, that is, a maximum of 8 hours per day.

Also, Mata believes that the P3,500 provided in the proposed bill is nowhere near the regional minimum wages even if board and lodging expenses for live-in domestic workers are accounted for. As such, that is another provision that needs improvement.

Today, there are more than 1 million domestic workers in the Philippines who are still regarded as part of the informally employed as the practice of domestic work is generally unregulated. Aside from their immediate families and loved ones, they are the ones who will greatly benefit from the eventual enactment of the “Kasambahay“ Bill into law.

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