Filipinos as debt slaves and VICTIMS

Search for the terms "debt slaves" and "domestic helpers" and you'll find many articles decrying the ill treatment of domestic helpers in Hong Kong and blaming agencies for forcing helpers to borrow money to pay agency fees. * It undoubtedly happens and people shouldn't have to go in debt to get a job, BUT it also happens every day in the Philippines and NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT IT.

Did you know that in the Philippines - 

  • first year teachers don't get paid UNTIL the END of the school year so in order to get by, the school loans them money and charges them a high interest rate. They start their career as debt slaves.

  • Nurses have to pay large sums to take the nursing board exam and once they pass the exam, instead of getting paid, they have to pay a hospital to employ them for the first year. They start their career as a debt slave! 

I interviewed one applicant who worked in administration at the Univ. of the Philippines. I was perplexed - "Why do you want to be a DH in Hong Kong?" She said "my salary is only 6000 pesos a month". I said "No way! Impossible!" She told me that the University had loaned her money, payday loans, advances, medical loans etc. to help her make ends meet and now they KEPT most of her salary to service her debt to them. Her take home pay was now less than HKD $1000/month. She was a debt slave. 

"can we please stop treating helpers like they are unintelligent HELPLESS VICTIMS??"

Many of those in Hong Kong who are fighting on behalf of domestic helpers treat them as if they are an oppressed underclass, while completely ignoring the realities of life and work in the Philippines.  The Hong Kong and International  media pick up on this rhetoric and re-hash old stories of abuse to remind us that problems in the system are still with us today. Throughout their stories and the rhetoric of the NGO's agencies and HK employers and the HK government are portrayed as greedy and evil and OFWs are portrayed as powerless victims with few rights. It is a stark black and white tale. 

Our DH's deserve better working conditions, less hours, more pay, the right to live out, etc. The deserve a government free of corruption and a good economy at home so they don't need to work overseas unless they want to. They should be treated with fairness and dignity by both employers and agencies. But can we please stop treating them like they are unintelligent HELPLESS VICTIMS?? OMG! 

At Arrow we interview applicants every week and ask them why they are applying to Arrow. The most frequent answer? "My friend recommended me, so I did some research on the Internet to see what your reputation and charges were. Then I decided to apply to Arrow."  Is that the answer of an ill informed country rube who better watch her wallet? I know many things need to change in Hong Kong, but the picture the activists paint depicting all agencies and employers as devils and all applicants as helpless victims - I don't recognize this picture and for most Filipinos - I don't believe it to be accurate.

NGOs and activists know that the employment situation for Filipinos and Indonesians is very different (Indonesians almost always come to HK with debt, but most Filipinos now come to HK without paying agency fees and without debt related to their deployment). Still they lump them together and relive the story of Erwiana, an Indonesian maid who was tortured and abused by her employer (now in jail) and give the world the impression that this is the norm in Hong Kong. Black and white, good and evil morality stories are better for causing guilt and pressuring the powers that be to enact change. The truth is more nuanced, more gray and less useful for the cause.

I think that this rhetoric is demeaning to OFWs. The DH's that I know and have grown to deeply respect, are intelligent, loving, hard working, thoughtful and wise people. While in HK they save for their future, finish degrees, lay plans to start small businesses, serve God in Churches. There are many things I can call them, but you will never hear me call them VICTIMS. I wish my friends who care about their situation here would stop using the vocabulary of oppression and victim-ology. Let's fight for an end to the live-in rule, for reasonable work hours and better pay, but can you please give the "the agencies, the HK government and employers are evil monsters & helpers are powerless, uninformed victims" morality tale a rest? 

* Footnote: Since the implementation of the "zero placement fee" policy in the Philippines complaints against agencies from helpers has dropped by around 66% (according to what I was told by a labor official at the Consulate).