Pinay migrants doubly-harmed with lack of health access


QUEZON CITY—THE LACK of access to health facilities in host countries aggravates the maltreatment already suffered by some Filipina migrant workers, making them more vulnerable and unattended to.

This was the observation from a case study by the Kanlungan Centre Foundation on the health conditions of women migrant workers who were its clients. The nonprofit advocacy group, established in 1989, offers services to overseas Filipino women workers in difficult circumstances.

Lead author of the study and medical doctor Aurora Barong said as some women migrant workers (mostly domestic workers) have been maltreated and raped, their conditions were even “associated (with their) erratic or non-access to health services in the host country”.

Of the 236 clients of Kanlungan whose individual case reports were studied, 63 of them reported maltreatment. These women, aged 18 to 40 years old, were employed as domestic workers overseas when they were abused.

In addition, the study cited that 11 women said they suffered both physical abused and rape.

Maltreatment, rape with maltreatment, and fractures were the top three health problems of Kanlungan’s clients. Those who said they were physically harmed included 57 domestic workers, two caregivers, two dressmakers, and two factory workers.

The study noted emphasized that the suffering led a woman migrant worker to develop psychosis, underlining the gravity of the abuse she experienced.

The study also noted that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia posted the highest number of reported cases of maltreatment, with 18 women having worked there. Lebanon is the country that posted the second-highest incidence of abuse. Other countries where these 63 maltreated came from are: Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (six workers each) and Taiwan (four workers).

The cases of maltreatment ranged from being forced to work more than eight hours up to 21 hours on an 8-hour salary. Likewise, the women also said they were fed or dissuaded from taking proper meals, restricted from using the bathroom at certain hours, and barred from leaving their employer’s home even on government-mandated rest days or holidays.

Aside from these, 36 of the 63 maltreated Filipina migrant workers said their employers also did not pay their salaries, as three were unilaterally terminated earlier than the contract period.

Three jumped off buildings to escape from their abusive employers.

Barong said that what aggravates the conditions of these maltreated women migrant workers is that they do not immediately seek medical treatment, or that clinics in the host country are inaccessible.

Some of the women who were raped went through unwanted pregnancies; the rapists scooting off free from the religio-cultural dilemma suffered by their victims as well as the economic duty over the offspring.

Barong said Kanlungan’s case reports confirmed other studies that rape victims feel “unclean; thus, resulting to abnormally bathing themselves frequently”.

Kanlungan’s study also did focus group discussions with former migrant workers in Metro Manila communities where the group actively provides services. Respondents said their health needs remain last in their priority of budgeting or spending. Likewise, these needs were not considered when they were still sending remittances to families back home.

Barong said this reflects a Filipino trait that consulting a doctor is the last option one takes, especially if he or she feels or thinks there’s nothing serious they can’t manage.

What the study also reveals is that since domestic work is not considered formal labor in the host country, employers of these domestic workers (both Filipinos and non-Filipinos) do not provide workers with health insurance benefits.

Since overseas employment is a private matter between the employer and the employee, foreign employers will not include providing health benefits to domestic workers, explains Deputy Administrator Noriel Devenadera of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

However, while the government has been exporting Filipinos overseas for the past three decades and reaping the benefits from these workers’ remittances, Devenadera can only say the government can only “try to inject health benefits into these existing contracts for household service workers.”

Prior to departure, contract workers pay P900 (roughly US$20 at US$1=P46) to reap promised benefits under the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

But Barong thinks that aside from these benefits remain undisclosed to OFWs, they remain inadequate.

Even health-related services by Philippine diplomatic missions are not enough, with migrant workers needing the services of doctors in the host country are in remote areas, the study observed.

And when the migrant worker returns to the Philippines, unless she or he is a dutiful paying member of government-run social security and health insurance programs for them, returning migrant workers cannot avail such health and pension benefits, the study bared.

Barong also looked at the cases of migrant workers being handled by government agencies and some non-government organizations, and also saw similar cases of maltreatment and occupational health-related issues for low-skilled migrant workers.

Kanlungan has been monitoring specific cases of women and men migrant workers who are in distressed situations. Its database of contains cases of rights violations spanning nearly two decades. OFW Journalism Consortium