While meeting with allies and lobbying against the destructive mining operation of UK-listed giant mining corporation Glencore last month, I met some of our kababayans in the United Kingdom.
According to Kanlungan, a charity group composed of Filipino organizations in UK, there are an estimated 250,000 Filipinos in UK, of whom 125,000 are in London. Filipinos are employed as nurses, caregivers, domestic workers, hotel and restaurant workers, and other service sector workers. Historically, most of primary migrants to UK are women who came to work in caregiving, health, and domestic service.
Migrant domestic workers are some of the most vulnerable groups in terms of human trafficking and labor violations.
In a study of Kalayaan as of 2010, a London-based organization helping domestic workers, about 17,000 migrant domestic workers (MDW) enter the UK yearly. Eight in ten migrant domestic workers (MDW) in Britain come from the Philippines, almost all of them (85-percent) are women.
Aside from the undocumented Filipinos, domestic workers have the lowest income and lowest standard of living among Filipinos in UK.
“Our people think life is good in London. Because when you go abroad they think you’re rich but we don’t even have savings,” says Helen Bulosan, who formerly worked in Hongkong and is now a domestic worker in London.
“Just a while ago a relative called to tell me I must pay my P40,000 debt to them. I don’t know how I got indebted to them,” she added, puzzled and worried.
Helen works an average of 12 hours a day with her long-time employer who brought her to the UK from Hongkong. But she is paid for just 8 hours of work per day. She gets 6.85 pounds (£) per hour, then another 20-percent tax is deducted from her total income. She earns around £1010 (PHP70,700) per month as a domestic worker.
She regularly sends around £600-£800 per month to her family and relatives in the Philippines. Her major expenses per month are for room rental (£125), water, gas, and electricty bills (£25), food (£25), miscellaneous (£25). If there are savings she usually uses it for the tuition fee of her children, medical emergencies, and debt payments.
“I just walk to be at my work in order to save money and send some to the Philippines,” says Helen.
Helen and her fellow domestic workers’ primary concern is how to financially support their families in PH.
Helen and six other Filipinos, four of them domestic workers, share an apartment in Notting Hill, London. They rent the apartment with three bedrooms for £1,350 (PHP94,500) per month. The house rental is more than the monthly income of Helen, thus she needed several other people to split the expense with.
Phoebe Dimacali, one of Helen’s housemates, is the President of Filipino Domestic Workers Association, UK (FDWA). FDWA is leading the campaign for rights and welfare of MDW in UK.
Phoebe said most of migrant domestic workers in UK suffer from low wages and labor rights violations. “Many of our fellow Filipinos here work more than eight hours per day to earn enough. Many have insufficient benefit and no job security. Some of them also have no right to change their employer, so even when they are being abused they can’t leave their employers because they might be sent home.”
“Undocumented workers or those without legal papers also increase. They not only earn less, they get no services from the government. The policy of their employer for them is No work, no pay.’ If they got sick or met an accident, they shoulder the cost. And on top of that, they have to be doubly wary of getting apprehended by the authorities. Our fellow Filipinos’ situation here is very hard and their families depend on them,” Phoebe explained.
FDWA is among the strongest migrant groups in UK. Established in September 2013, they already have 85 members. They have given services and assistance to abused and vulnerable domestic workers through education, legal assistance, employment, and social activities. FDWA is handling several cases of abuse and labor violations among Filipino domestic workers.
Maribet (not her real name), a victim of human trafficking in the UK, was ‘rescued’ by FWDA. She continues to earn a living in London as a domestic worker.
FWDA already rescued 13 Filipino migrant workers from human trafficking. Some of the cases they have handled involved Filipino domestic workers who were sexually and physically abused by their employers.
“We are calling on our fellow Filipinos in UK suffering from abuse to cooperate with FWDA so together we can face the problem. Our fight against human trafficking will also help us in our demands to the UK government to give more rights and protection to migrant domestic workers,” said Phoebe.
Though FWDA is focused on migrant issues, it is also involved in campaigns on different social and political issues both in the UK and in the Philippines.
FWDA members continue to campaign on issues affecting migrants in the UK and the Philippines.
As Cielon Tilan, Vice President of FWDA, explains, “Just like the millions of Filipinos in different countries, we are driven to live and work abroad due to poverty and joblessness in the Philippines. We need to act together to assert our rights and welfare as we take part in the moves of fellow Filipinos to resolve the roots of the poverty in the Philippines.”