Foreign Caretaker, when will you attain the freedom and rights which are lawfully yours?
Morning of Monday, it is saddening to find out that another case of a caretaker happened.
Thursday afternoon: While the worker was cutting some vegetables, she was asked by the son of her employer to accompany Amah (the real employer of the worker) to buy vegetables in the market. The worker said, “Sir, I can’t understand what you’re saying.” The employer said, “You don’t understand?” and the worker answered, “Yes sir.” Times passed and it seems everything was okay, or so the worker thought. That night, the son of her employer suddenly got furious and shouted at the worker telling her why she did not accompany her mother to buy vegetables. Because the worker cannot endure anymore what the son was saying, she went inside the room where her ward, Agong, was staying. But she was surprised that the son followed her to the room and continued to shout while banging on the door. At that point, the worker did not know what to feel and what to do first. What should the worker do first? Take care of her ward who was bedridden or to comprehend what the son was telling her at that point? Or to ensure her safety because of fear that she would be hurt by the son of her employer? Due to her panic, she was not able to think straight, she grabbed her bag and went out of the house to get some fresh air and calm herself. While she was outside, she remembered that she needs to fix Agong’s bed by 7:00 pm that’s why she decided to go back. Upon her return, the son shouted at her again that if she wants to leave, she can already do so. When she saw that Agong was already in the bed, she didn’t think twice and left. Carrying a small suitcase, she left the house of her employer but made sure that Agong was not left all alone.
Walking on the sidewalk...
The worker only thought of calling 1955 to inform of her situation. The first call was made when she went out to calm herself after the encounter with the son of her employer and the second call was made when she decided to finally leave the house. While she was on the streets, the worker had no place to stay and MECO was already closed because it was already night time. She decided to go to the main station, endured the cold and stayed there the rest of the night. When morning came, the worker went straight to MECO to report her situation. Upon learning what happened, the MECO staff called her employer because no agency can intervene because her case was direct hiring. The MECO staff wanted the worker to go back to her employer suggesting that having work was important and in fact that she is a direct hire. After learning of the whole story, I realized, is this kind of work really such a waste because the worker is directly hired? Why should you endure your working condition at work when such circumstances dictate to you that you have the option to not endure such hardships? Because MECO and New Taipei Labor already had an agreement about her case that she can already be sheltered, the worker is still confused about what was happening.
It even got worse when she learned that her beloved grandmother had a stroke. Her grandmother who took care of her while she was young, her grandmother who stood as her own mother is now in a critical condition. She blamed herself why she had to tell her grandmother of what happened to her. While the New Taipei Labor and the MECO Labor Office were negotiating with her employer, they were able to convince the employer to release her and allow her to transfer to another work. It was eventually agreed that the employer will sign her termination paper and they will allow the worker to go back to the house to get the remainder of her things the next Monday.
The day of confrontation...
December 11 Monday: We arrived at the condominium of the employer and found out that the building in the compound were all high-rise. We waited for a few minutes until the guard informed us that we can already go up.
When we are already inside the condo, Amah allowed the worker to get her things. Lennon prepared the papers to be signed by Amah but Amah said that she needs to wait for her son because she cannot read the small letters on the document. And so we had to wait. After a few minutes, Amah’s son in law arrived and Lennon introduced himself and told the son in law that reason why we were there. The son in law told us that they reported the worker as a runaway just that morning. We were surprised because we all thought that everything was already arranged, that they had agreed to release the worker. We were still recovering from the shock and Lennon was arguing with the son in law when the doorbell rang. We saw two policemen entering the house. Lennon then explained to the police who we were and the reason why we were there. At first, the policemen didn’t believe us that’s why Lennon asked them to call the Labor Office. While waiting, the other policeman was looking at the three of us ( myself and 2 OFWs whom I requested to accompany and help us carry the worker’s things) and spoke to me in Mandarin, asking for my ID. I was irked because I felt that they were treating us like criminals. I wasn’t aware that one of my companions was shaking in fear while the other almost peed in his pants, while I was displeased by the arrogant attitude of the policeman and the son in law of the employer. I told my companions to show our IDs to the police and when the police verified that we are legit, he returned our IDs.
The argument with the police lasted for minutes until in the end we were able to make them understand that the worker is not really a runaway, so the police left. However, even if the police already left, the argument between the daughter of the employer and Lennon persisted. After a while, Labor again called up Amah’s daughter explaining to her that they need to retract the report that the worker is a runaway because it is not true. But Amah’s daughter was very indignant. The labor officer informed her that if she will not retract the report, they will have to pay 300,000 to 1,000,000 NT as payment for the misleading report that they did.
To make the story short, the employer will just sign the termination paper only if the worker will have a replacement. For this reason, we again had to wait.
A few minutes after the worker packed her things, she sat beside me and in passing explained to her the situation that there is no chance for her to be home in time to see the wake of her beloved grandmother. I saw the pain in her eyes.
At last, Lennon was able to finish the argumentation with the employer. At that point, only two words came out from the employer, “OUT! OUT!” while looking sharp at the worker. At that point, I told the worker to stand and left the house.
While riding the minibus going to Tamsui MRT, I rested my head at the seat and looked up the sky. The sky was so clear, no signs of a disaster that was yet to come. I reflected on what happened yesterday.
It was only yesterday that the worker learned that her grandmother who had a stroke already passed away. It was also yesterday that we celebrated the Human Rights Day. We had two celebrations on that day, the Migrants’ Day and our Christmas Party. I apologized to the worker that we cannot postpone the celebrations anymore. While almost everyone was happy and enjoying, there was someone in the corner silently grieving and crying as well as hoping that she would be able to go back to the Philippines for just a few days for her to see her beloved grandmother for the last time.
Last time while I was chatting with the worker, she was pleading asking our help for her to go home. I told her that it will be difficult because at present, she has no employer, but I told her that I will try our best until we are able to talk to her employer.
A discriminatory system...
Why did I tell the worker that it will be hard for her to be able to go home to the Philippines? Because the system itself is the reason hindering the worker to go home because she doesn’t have an employer at present. Basically, the worker has still an employer because the latter did not sign the termination paper. Legally speaking, the employment contract between the two of them is still valid, but because she was reported as TNT, she will not be given a re-entry visa by the immigration because the system will show that she was reported as TNT. MECO will also not give her an OEC because she doesn’t have an employer. For these reasons, even though she is at the shelter, there is no chance for her to see her grandmother for the last time. She can go home to the Philippines but she cannot come back here in Taiwan anymore. She can come back only if she would be lucky enough to apply and spend a lot of money. This rotten system has caused the migrant worker this kind of situation.
While we were at the MRT, I was thankful that no one noticed my silence. While inside the MRT, I was in awe of the beauty of Tamsui but that was not what I was really thinking. I also didn’t notice that my stomach was already grumbling of hunger since it was already past 2:00 in the afternoon. My mind was only centered on what I was feeling then. I was asking myself to not become too affected by these kinds of cases because I have encountered a lot of similar cases before. This is not new to people like us. But still, I keep asking, “Why?” “Until when do the migrant workers have to suffer these kinds of unjust treatments?” Especially to those home-based workers who do not have any protection at all. The home-based workers should not be called “workers” because they are not considered as workers and are not part of the Labor Standard Act. For these reasons, you, Caretaker, yes you, you do not have any right to look for a new employer because you were stripped off of this right because of this awful system. Your right to have a new employer lies in the hands of your present boss. You are not considered as a worker in this kind of society because you are owned by your employer. You have become a legal slave because of the contract that you yourself signed.
While in the MRT, I was just staring at the window. I saw that we are about to enter the tunnel and then it was pitch black. I saw small lights flickering and I suddenly thought, the tunnel is a much better place because in spite of the darkness, at least there are flickers of light. But what about the caretaker, can they still see the hope of light in the darkness of their situation now?
Migrant Home-Based Workers, we still have a very long journey to go for you to belong to the Labor Standard Act. The fight is still a long process!!!
Life of a Caretaker.