Justice for Yaya

The rights of household workers have finally been legitimized and put into law.
The rights of household workers have finally been legitimized and put into law.

Family life in the Philippines is an unconventional one. The size of the family, which includes extended relatives as well as the importance of family values represents a uniqueness that is different to Western culture. As defined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the family is the most fundamental cell of the nation and is where children are taught their moral convictions and virtues. A typical Filipino household includes the usual parents and siblings, added by the presence of the grandparents and close relations with cousins. But the most distinct feature of the Filipino family setting is the presence of household helpers: katulong (maids), yaya (nannies), kusinera (cooks), hardinero (gardeners) and the labanderas (washwoman).

In a nation where the lower-income strata represents a huge portion of the population, there tends to be a huge number of under-educated individuals. In the Philippines where the job openings barely satisfy the number of tertiary graduates, the rural population who mostly only finished high school are presented with such limited employment opportunities. As a result, a number of them seek jobs among middle-income and the upper class as household workers. Especially in a booming Philippine economy such as today, it is difficult to find a household with no employed helpers or kasambahays. They ensure that the house is spick and span before their amo (employer) arrives from work, they prepare dinner, organize the garden and do the laundry and iron clothes. These kasambahays, regardless of how society sees them, actually fulfill an important role in the household.

The sad thing is that, the Filipino often does not see the substantial efforts contributed by these kasambahays. They are often regarded to be uneducated and are sometimes treated as slaves by their bosses. We hear stories of nannies and maids being forbidden to leave the house and are begrudged of a day-off. There are reports of them being underpaid or receiving no pay at all and some even find themselves beaten or tortured for doing work below that of their employer’s standards. There are over two million kasambahays in the Philippines, and they along with indigenous tribes are among the most forgotten parties of the nation that require the backing of the government.

Thankfully, this month the Republic Act 10361 takes effect. The bill, rightly called “The Kasambahay Law”, ensures the basic human rights of every Kasambahay and legitimizes the role as a proper occupation. Signed into law by the President at the start of the year, the act is a much-needed bill which is widely welcomed by the public.

A group of kasambahays at a labor agency.
A group of kasambahays at a labor agency.

The most important part of the bill is the standardization of the proper wage given to these kasambahays, which is set at Php2,500 for the NCR region and Php2,000 for any first-class city in the country with the basement at the Php1,500. It is a huge improvement from the Php1,-1,500 monthly wage given to these kasambahays as was the norm before. This also ensures that the household owners do not exploit the lack of education of these individuals. It also sets the proper age for employment of a kasambahay, which should be not below the age of fifteen years old.

R.A. 10361 also prioritizes health insurance and mandates the kasambahays to be enrolled to government social services such as SSS, PhilHealth and the Pag-Ibig Housing Scheme. Under the law, the employer must cover all of the premiums and enrolment fees of the plans if the kasambahay earns below Php5,000, otherwise the kasambahay pays for 3% of the premiums and 7% falls to the employer. Having access to these services ensures the kasambahay does  not need to rely on his or her meagre wage to seek medical treatment or to avail of emergency loans. The Pag-Ibig Housing Scheme also gives them the opportunity to build their own home in the future.

The Kasambahay Law also acknowledges the basic labor rights of workers, wherein they are provided with a proper day-off and a paid leave vacation. It also sets the amount of aggregate breaks a kasambahay should have per working day. Religious preferences is also being respected, and that household owners should allow their kasambahays to attend their religious service. The law particularly ensures the basic human rights of these individuals, kasambahays are given the right to medical treatment if they sustain any injury at work, a decent resting quarter if they are to stay-in, access to communication with family and at least three meals a day with respect to their religious beliefs.

However, the most laudable aspect of the said law is the importance it gives to the education of the kasambahays. These individuals usually have not finished their secondary education, much more college. Under the Kasambahay Law, if the individual chooses to pursue an education his or her working hours should be adjusted to meet their school schedule with no deduction to their pay or benefits. While the work of a kasambahay is fulfilling, no one dreams of becoming one in their childhood. A Filipino should not think their ambitions are fantasies no matter what social class they belong to, everyone should get a chance at fulfilling that dream. Providing kasambahays with a chance at an education gives them the chance to escape the need to become one in the future and have a chance at a more ambitious career path.

With R.A. 10631 in effect, hopefully the promise of a better life for the regular kasambahays will be fulfilled. The Philippine Congress does not fall short of  crafting helpful and promising legislations, but it often lacks teeth in implementing these. Obviously, the added cost will put off employers to increase wage of their kasambahays and to even afford them the benefits, it is the duty of the kasambahays to report violations and the responsibility of going after the violators falls at the hands of the authorities. The penalty for violation of the law is pegged at a fine of Php10,000-40,000, although not substantial it is definitely significant enough to make sure these employers do not dare violate the law. But if the government fails to prioritize its implementation, what is stopping the employers from doing so? There needs to be coordination if this law was to be a success.

Our yayas and katulongs go through a lot to make our lives easier, it is time to do our part to help make their lives easier too. It is time we give justice to yaya, and all the work that she does.

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