Group urges PNoy to protect Filipino au pairs in Europe
WITH the lifting of the ban on the deployment of Filipino au pairs to Europe by the Philippine government, the Aquino government should urgently undertake a serious program of action to ensure that the rights and welfare of Filipino au pairs are fully protected and abuses are prevented and justly addressed. Moreover, the lifting of the ban should be applied to all au pair receiving countries in Europe, including the Netherlands.
This was stressed by Grace Punongbayan, coordinator of Migrante Europe, an Amsterdam-based service institution promoting the rights and welfare of Filipinos in Europe, in reaction to the recent news about the lifting of the ban on the deployment of Filipino au pairs to Europe.
“Right from the very start when we began work among our Filipino au pairs, we have always called the attention of the Philippine government through its embassies to look into the situation of compatriot au pairs and seriously address the abuses in the system,” Punongbayan said.
When the campaign to call attention to the plight of Filipino au pairs, who were being treated as domestic workers, made to work long hours, physically and mentally abused, and in some cases, raped, specifically in the Netherlands and Belgium, took off the ground, the Philippine government responded by simply banning the deployment of au pairs to these countries, while doing practically nothing to address the abuses, Punongbayan explained.
“The banning was the Philippine government’s way of washing its hands off the abuses suffered by compatriot au pairs. The Aquino government should now start initiating a monitoring system and concrete programs to protect compatriot au pairs. It should regulate au pair agencies in the Philippines extorting unjust fees from au pairs, propose a magna carta for Filipino au pairs, and seek bilateral talks with countries receiving Filipino au pairs, including asking European governments such as the Netherlands to sign the European Convention on the Protection of Au Pairs,” Punongbayan emphasized.
With the lifting of the ban on the deployment of Filipino au pairs to Europe, prospective au pairs can now freely exercise their right to go abroad as au pairs, freed from illegal recruiters, fixers and immigration extortionists, and can demand assistance from Philippine embassies in times of need.
The word “Au Pair” is a French term, which means “on par” or “equal to”, meaning they are supposed to be treated as equals or members of the host family. An au pair will typically be a young woman and sometimes a young man from a foreign country (usually below 30 years old) who chooses to help look after the children of a host family, provide light housekeeping work, and learn the culture of the host country. The au pair is given free board and lodging and is given an reasonable “allowance.” Au pairs generally stay with their host family for one year. They are not supposed to be treated as domestic help.
Because of poverty and the acute unemployment in the Philippines, many young women and men, avail of the au pair program to help their families. They remit their small allowances to their families back home.
“We maintain our firm position that national industrialization and genuine land reform are the only solutions to the poverty and acute unemployment problem in the Philippines, and not the current labor export policy of the Philippine government. It is the foremost duty of the Philippine government, not foreign countries, to provide decent employment to its citizens,” Punongbayan concluded.
Migrante Europe started to look into the situation of Filipino au pairs mainly in the Netherlands several years back, after receiving countless distress calls from au pairs suffering from terrible abuse, among them, being made to do heavy household chores for 16 hours per day, experiencing verbal and physical abuse including rape, being locked inside the house of the host family, passports and other documents confiscated so the au pair could not leave the house and family, forcible deportation even if the contract is not yet fully consumed, among others.
What is heartbreaking, according to Migrante Europe, is when they receive terrible news of a sudden mysterious death of an au pair, like what happened recently in the Netherlands. Migrante Europe said sources close to the victim told them they suspected foul play in the sudden death of the Filipina au pair contrary to the family’s claim that it was a case of suicide. The same sources also said the victim’s family in the Philippines reportedly had been paid an amount to keep keep their mouths shut so that the victim’s host family in the Netherlands would escape prosecution.