A few days ago, I received a phone call from a caregiver. She sounded frustrated and angry. She kept on asking me about her rights because her employer was refusing to give her a day off — she hadn’t had a day off in more than two years.
“Why they can treat me like this? I am not a slave!” she said.
Daisy is another caregiver. She enjoys a day off only once a month, but wants to take a regular day off every week. After she requested this of her employer, the lovely woman suddenly became cool and detached. She ignored not only her request but also her very presence.
This kind of conversation is a frequent part of my work, and that makes me sad and angry.
I won’t forget the sadness of Nancy, a caregiver in Taipei County. She showed me a picture of her three kids. Her oldest son died 20 years old while she was here. She was not allowed to attend his funeral. She was forced to abandon her family life, the most precious part of Philippine culture. I looked at her face and felt the pain and sadness — and persistence.
Tens of millions of people around the world are employed as domestic workers. The great majority of them are women. The common feature of their jobs is often harsh working conditions with long working hours. Most caregivers are live-in employees, which makes it more difficult to divide living space and work space: Because work is performed in private residences, the division is rendered invisible.
Caregiving is thought of as assistance that women provide inside someone else’s home rather than as a proper job with all the attendant rights. Caregivers are paid poorly, have low status and work in an environment in which two basic sets of rights clash: the worker’s rights and the employer’s rights in maintaining the family’s privacy.
Domestic work is excluded from some labor laws, and exploitation of workers follows.
In 2003, many incidents of abused migrants were reported, but the most explosive was of the death of writer and national policy adviser Liu Hsia (劉俠), an advocate for the disabled.
On Feb. 8, 2003, she died after being attacked by her Indonesian caregiver, who suffered from convulsion disorder, a psychological affliction caused by emotional stress, which made her unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
The incident shocked the public. Some employers worried that they had ticking bombs working in their homes. Others argued that violations of the rights of household workers, especially withdrawing days off and the pressure and isolation of work, had turned both the carers and the cared into victims.
Last year a Vietnamese worker killed her employer and jumped to her death after not receiving her salary for two years.
Responsibility for this situation can be attributed to Taiwan’s labor policy, which is like a front for slavery.
In response to NGO pressure, the government revised regulations on Jan. 13, 2004, to allow NGOs to establish non-profit employment service agencies. But it continues to ignore the need for new laws and to insist that it is “studying” this issue.
Today is International Migrants’ Day, and it’s a shame that household workers here still do not have any real protection. We must bring attention to the rights of household workers.
Without such efforts, most domestic workers will never be able to claim days off, equal pay, labor insurance and so on.