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New Guidelines on Legal Au Pair Deployment to Denmark: Babaylan Denmark’s Response

Information Events for Au pairs

New Guidelines on Legal Au Pair Deployment to Denmark: Babaylan’s Response

By Ana Lindenhamn, Filomenita M.Høgsholm and Judy Jover

First and foremost,  we applaud the efforts of our competent Ambassador to Norway, Denmark and Iceland,  Her Excellency Ms. Elizabeth Buensuceso, whose commitment in tandem with like minded members and groupings in the Filipino community, helped pushed thru the Bilateral Agreement which we welcome.
The main points of interest for Babaylan with regard to these  new development are   classified under the following sub-headings:
  1. The issue of increased Protection
  2. Less bureaucratic redtape
  3. Recruitment
  4. Middlemen,
  5. the cultural context  and
  6. development perspectives.

No more harassment and extortion at the airport of departing au pairs
Transaparency International monitors  corruption globally and has consistently rated the Philippines as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. It is also common knowledge that the ban on au pair deployment imposed by the government more than 15 years ago has systematized the extortion of every departing au pair to the tune of at least 30 000 Php amounting to millions of illicit income to the culprits each year.
At time of writing of this document, we continue to get  reports from the field confirming that the extortion continues.  immigration officials continue their dirty business on their 16th year.
W e beseech the new administration of President Noynoy Aquino to Immediately Stop those unscrupulous elements at Immigrations.and the complicity by other airport authorities.

Insurance for Illness and for Evt. Repatriation in case of Death
This  is  one of the heaviest nuts to crack and the most significant improvement under the new bilateral agreement between the Philippine and Danish governments on au pairs.  Inasmuch as the Danish government allowed Filipino au pairs despite the Philippine ban but did not  allocate resources  to cover au pairs’ mortuary situation, a couple of tragedies occurred the last 2 years which the Filipino community in Denmark tackled on their own. In the case of the first,  the body of the au pair who died from a traffic accident in North Zeeland could not be repatriated to Bohol, even with Christmas approaching, prompting a spontaneous fundraising so the casket can be home by Christmas. In the second  case an au pair who became undocumented after she overstayed, became ill and while she could still access hospitalization, there were again no provisions for repatriation after death so the Filipino community again solicited funds so she  “could come home.”.

Safegaurd in Return Airfares
It is positive that the host family is now  responsible for return airfares the drawback however being that the  Free Policy allowing host as well as Au Pair to change around,  the issue of who is to buy the plane tickets must rest on fairness. Should a  host family pay for return tickets after the au pair moves to a new family? Here, maybe the fair thing to do is for the next family to refund the original family for the trip back? Earlier when the host families only took care of the one-way return fare, it left the au pair in debt even before leaving the Philippines. This situation can sometimes lead to trafficking when the au pair can be forced to pay exorbitant prices plus cumulative interest rates that in the end will enslave her. Even forcing her to resort to prostitution or other illegal activities.

Need for Au Pair Refuge/Safe House in abrupt dismissal by host families
Smooth relations between the host family and au pair is relevant so there is less changing of host families/au pairs. For every abrupt change, the au pair is exposed to vulnerability which eventually is passed on to the voluntary organizations: they inherit the burden of  putting up runaway au pairs privately lasting weeks, even months. This highly untenable but predictable situation has its roots in Philippine culture where we cannot bear to see our fellow kababaehan (women compatriots) homeless!
Babaylan Denmark suggests that the Philippine Embassy discuss this aspect with the Danish government so publicly funded women refuge centers reserved for Danish victims of domestic violence can be opened up for au pairs in emergency situations. Like repatriation, this issue has to  be tackled between sending and receiving states. No voluntary organization in the community at the moment have resources to put up refuge centers but volunteers can be found if the infrastructure is provided.

Red Tape: improved  Au Pair Application Processes

Babaylan Denmark commends the new process of application that has made easier and with clearer Stipulations the Contract for both host and the au pair concerned.
We recommend strongly that the government agencies POEA and OWWA continue to honourably serve  the  Au Pairs as they should any other group of  Filipinos who travel  abroad for various purposes (study, work, marriage to other nationals, etc.) with a minimum of bureaucracy and with deep respect.  After all, these “heroes” sustain the economy and  do the nation proud in many ways.  The Filipino nation owes their citizens abroad  fair recognition and improved service. Simplifying bureaucratic measures will be the first step in this spirit  of  appreciating  our Filipino citizens abroad.

In Country of Origin:
The role of agencies – in Babaylan’s  collated experience in both the Netherlands and Denmark where we have the strongest advocacy work on au pairs so far,  we  can only bewail the presence of agencies in the Au Pair scheme which is NOT a Work but a Cultural  Arrangement.  There is NO NEED AT ALL for agencies, to negotiate working conditions.   Also in the light of the very small allowances involved and the limited time of the au pair to amass enough renumeration to make their stay abroad worthwhile, eg. capital for livelihood projects and other obligations at home, “there is no fat to skim off”.

In the age of globalization  where the internet café is a fixture even in the smallest towns in the Philippine archipelago, young people wishing to be au pairs in Europe can make the contact with the host families directly through the internet. This should  empower the usually internet savvy applicant to manage this process ably, evt. with help of NGOs like Babaylan, which as Information Hubs are  accessible also thru the internet. In this process, would be au pairs  must be able to document that they are  professional Au Pair material. By this we mean that these young people can live up to the stipulations of the  au pair scheme: age limit, 17-30,  fluency in spoken and written English, civil status : not married, no children and last but not least which we strongly recommend: that they are knowledgeable about  Philippine culture  since they are youth ambassadors for our country.
Only when  Filipinos have something to offer to the host country in cultural terms, can we talk of Cultural Exchange. In other words, there are competences and qualifications in being au pair and this has to be differentiated from the domestic workers legally deployed in the millions to other parts of the world today, eg. in the Middle East and the tiger economies of Asia. If Filipinos are to do good stewardship as global workers, with their Godgiven gifts such as amiable personalities, good work ethic, high qualifications, then no Filipino should tolerate that our citizens work as domestic workers majority of them women  in regions and countries without a hint of any form of human rights!

In Europe/host country
We in Babaylan caution about applications from certain countries and regions other than the Philippines, eg. countries that have large numbers of domestic workers and  nannies such as Hongkong, Singapore, most countries in the Middle East, etc.. We cannot just stand by and see how so-called agencies, also the homegrown variety, run by former domestic workers from these areas- orchestrate the undermining of the  Au Pair scheme. These agents recruit domestic workers under the Au Pair scheme and this has always  led to au pair exploitation: first by the agency who charge all kinds of fees, request free labour and expose sometimes to sexual exploitation., documented by Babaylan cases.  Then follows the exploitation by the  host family who do not respect the contract and expect longer hours and heavier duties from the au pairs, in like manner as the domestic workers in the Middle East. And Asia. “They look down upon us.” “They think we are domestic workers.”  is a very common complaint among au pairs in Denmark . Au Pairs mean on equal footing. Au Pairs are not maids, they are meant to help out Danish families but only with light housework, they are not meant to be fulltime nannies, animal groomers or potato diggers in Danish farms!

Middlemen or Misery Makers?
In Babaylan’s experience, most Filipino au pairs in North Europe come from very depressed areas in the Philippines indicating that poverty is the biggest push factor. The prospective au pair, egged on by family begins the Au Journey by  quickly entering a web of woes -debts- that will likely take all of 18 months of au pair allowances to pay the debt incurred with the local loanshark who  may be a former au pair or worker from abroad or it could be a family member! Next is the agency regionally located, for example in Cebu, then in the capital, Manila,  which supposedly  facilitates the contact with a prospective host family often for an exorbitant fee. There is no need for assistance from  these miserymakers!  Knowledgeable au pairs can do their own processing. For free. These predatory middlemen or agencies make profit from the bureaucratic maze of passports, visas and other documents that have to be authenticated. But it is thei invisible unregulated fees that really have to be clamped down. Fly by night agencies who disappear from view and run with the money are also a great problem.
Therefore our Recommendation is clear and simple: Close  ALL Agencies We do not find it acceptable that the  Philippine government merely  mentions that it  does  not recommend any agency to the prospective au pair host family because this can be interpreted as  the Philippine government condoning agencies who take contact  without the Philippine government/Embassy’s cooperation. We cannot live with the fact that the Philippine government by choosing to be  “neutral” and by default allows agencies in.
Family members can have negative influence as mentioned above means that we cannot afford to overlook this delicate situation When recruitment occurs thru family members already in Scandinavia Babaylan has observed that expectations on the part of the family member, probably a friend of the host family, disadvantage the au pair.  The importance and influence of family on the individual Filipina can overshadow problem areas. We had a case of  an au pair being charged 250,000 Php by her cousin for the favor she did of finding a host family for her.  Even after a whole year, the au pair was still paying the cousin off!  The aupair has since getten married, now has a young family of her own but the  cousins are no longer in good relations after this very exploitative experience.

Another  Babaylan experience- is illustrated by  agencies operated by former domestic workers, who before the ban was lifted, naturally recruited au pairs from her old workplace, eg. Singapore among the Filipina domestics there who wished to stay abroad  and sees Denmark as an option. However, the relations between recruiter and recruitee even when the au pair had paid her dues already hinges upon patronage, where “utang na loob” (indebtedness) prevails but the worst  in our view is the psychological influence from this person of authority seen with au pairs eyes, which makes the au pair subservient to the host family thereby losing the spirit of  the au pair being at par, or on equal terms with host family members. The perpetuation of the domestic worker mentality, as illustrated by the fact that most of them refer to “amo” or slavemaster when referring to host parents, indicates that the Filipina has internalized the housemaid mentality.

Seminars should help not overload and  stress  the departing au pair
The pre-departure seminars required by POEA and OWWA  comprise another potential  moneymilking scheme to which au pairs can be victimized. For the first, such seminars should be delivered by really qualified and knowledgeable players like transnational NGOs  or their counterpart women organizations in the Philippines that are familiar with, and who actually work in both cultures. Another must is a gender sensitive approach to procedures
We have observed that  the content of those pre-departure seminars are mainly to inform on how to operate vacuum cleaners, washing machines, etc. This is a waste of time and money. The host family can instruct the au pair on the first day about these things and this is sufficient. .We recommend instead that the departing au pair be given the chance to learn first and foremost  about their rights. They must also know about Danish society and its core values of  democracy,  transparency in governance,  gender equality.  This will teach the au pairs to be assertive and know, then insist on their rights, instead of nonconfrontational subservience,

We further recommend that the medical exam  is held earlier, like at the submission of the application stage so as to insure that the host family does not end up with “damaged goods”. It is documented that  some au pairs have arrived already pregnant,  leaving the host family with a host of problems vis-a-vis- the health services and the immigration authorities. In some cases, the au pairs were actually ill to be begin with so the start of their stay becomes problematic for the host family, which is unfair.
This also gives the Philippine authorities a bad name of being incompetent, not to detect these situations that are unacceptable in global terms.

Development Perspectives

Learning new skills to take back
When the two year contract is over, it is expected that the au pair leaves for home. Sometimes it happens that she is able to find another destination  and can stay a bit longer possibly in another country. In the long run however, the AU Pair must ask herself, what can I show  for all those years?
Babaylan DK has for the last two years been engaged in doing orientation courses to help the au pair adjust to the new life in Denmarrkthrough information and knowledge building. In this connection Babaylan Europe, holds courses on financial literacy and computer  literacy to include netbanking, use of social media to widen contacts and fight back isolation and loneliness.

It is of absolute importance that correct information is circulated by the media  on the topic. Firstly, in the country of origin, it is imperative that the press orients itself accurately about the scheme which is cultural exchange between two countries  and correct the misconception that the Au Pair  is another form for domestic worker, or  a “junior” version of the domestic worker as evidenced by examples below:

  • the reporter calls au pairs as “domestic assistants” while  ABS-CBN  writes about the au pair scheme as being nanny positions while the Phil Star talks of domestic workers.
  • In the host country, the media err on the side of too much focus on the issue of “abuse”. While this is commendable, this can lead to the au pairs being patronizrd  instead of being equal partners tasked with doing light housework, childminding, shopping, cleaning, etc.

The media in Scandinavia, mirroring their Nordic populations, are largely against the coming of au pairs because they remind them of a period in their history when they had “girl in the house” to do the domestic work and which they associate with slavery. So to begin with, the journalists are emotionally conflicted about the Au Pair scheme. Since they cannot see a trace of cultural content in the scheme so far,  their “suspicions” are more fired up. In the end, it is not possible to form a normal and neutral picture of the Au pair in Danish society. Nor is the au pair’s  self-image.written about.

In contrast, there is complete silence on the side of the Danish women who profit from the scheme, they are able to continue their career climb, or even save their marriages because the au pair lifts the physical burden off the daily battle with work, other family members, hobbies, and other leisuretime interests.

Preventing trafficking
Some agencies have been known to actually engage in trafficking of individuals, women as well as men and children less for sexual services, more for  labour trafficking where the process begins legally but ends in irregular situation so the rights of the workers are curtailed and they are taken advantage of and even “sold” to another employerBabaylan would like to support efforts from the Philippine government to prevent trafficking. Two things are necessary:
  1. Monitoring of the situation of the au pairs including making sure that they do not overstay and lose their legal rights to stay.
  2. Assisting the au pair to make  sure the new placement is  procured legally eg. going to Norway from Denmark and vice versa..

Babaylan Denmark has been one of the three organizations that set up the Au Pair Network since 2008 and it is our wish, now that the ban on deployment is lifted, that there is a good cooperation and coordination between organizations like the Network and the Philippine government.

Feeling the need for au pairs to be able to prevent  deskilling (the process of losing  one’s competences because the daily life is now limited to housework and menial “dirty” jobs, we have been holding orientation courses to uphold their labour rights as well as gender specific topics like sexual and reproductive rights and violence against women modules.>

With documented experience in Europe in the au pair area, we at Babaylan are ready to offer consultative services when it comes to cross-cultural relations, language proficiency, financial and  economic literacy, use of computers and IT systems, eg. e-banking so au pairs can better take advantage of development options in their hometowns and be part of generating jobs there.
Note: this was Babaylan Denmark’s response when the announcement came out that the Philippines  has lifted the ban on au pairs. The Guidelines on the selection of au pairs to Denmark is the Philippines Government  conditions to allow it’s citizen to work as an aupair to Denmark . This article was  published in the ABAKADA Magazine  Winter 2010  Edition.
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