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在线翻译:
szdaily -> In depth
Filipino maids' dilemma in China
    2017-August-8  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

DISCUSSIONS went viral online in China last week when news came out that China is considering a plan to allow maids from the Philippines to be hired in five big mainland cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen. The news was first reported by The Philippine Star, but was not yet confirmed by the Chinese side.

The report said Philippine’s Labor Undersecretary Dominador Say met with a representative from the Chinese Embassy in Manila last month for exploratory talks on drawing up standard employment contracts for Filipino maids wanting to work in China. Discussions would continue in September, he added.

“It will be limited to five major cities, among them Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen. They are looking at the possibility of 100,000 pesos (US$2,000) monthly pay for the housekeeper to be hired,” said Say.

About 5,000 Filipinos are already working illegally on the mainland due to China’s strict work visa policy preventing them from being employed legally, according to the Philippines’ government data.

Shanghai allowed foreign residents to hire maids from overseas in July 2015, but Chinese citizens are still banned from hiring them.

Emmanuel Geslani, a consultant for Philippine recruitment firms and an expert on labor migration, said talks among recruitment companies in China and the Philippines started last year.

“That is a good plan ... it will legitimize (the status of illegals) either through a bilateral agreement or employment contracts that recruiters from both sides can agree on. So many are already jumping to the mainland from Hong Kong,” he told The Straits Times.

Geslani said he expected about 20,000 Filipino maids to move to China each month once a deal was struck. The maids can expect a salary of at least US$400, which is the minimum required now, and up to US$800. Most are likely to end up with expatriates or wealthy Chinese families, mostly in Shanghai and Xiamen, and “not so much in Beijing,” said Geslani.

Black market fueled by high demand

The Chinese mainland’s demand for English-speaking nannies has spawned a black market of almost 200,000 Filipino domestic workers, according to the Philippine consulate-general in Hong Kong, many of whom were brought across from Hong Kong by unscrupulous agents tapping into a lucrative business.

Filipino “helpers” are prized overseas but visa restrictions mean most work in Hong Kong, Singapore or the Middle East where their salaries, while far more modest than those on offer in London or New York, contribute to the Philippines’ US$25.8 billion of annual remittances.

Now China’s new rich, having made waves buying luxury watches, holidays and art, are looking to upgrade their domestic staff from ayi, the local nannies and cleaners, to the educated Filipino helpers.

Apart from bestowing prestige for employing foreign maids at home, Filipinos often teach the children better English. However, unlike Hong Kong and Singapore, China bans the hiring of overseas nationals for private domestic service. That has spawned a growing underground trade in big mainland cities.

Almost 200,000 undocumented Filipinos are working as maids in China, according to the Philippine consulate-general in Hong Kong in a 2016 report. More than 100 agencies are listed on the website of the China Filipino DH Association, which says it helps find Filipino helpers across the country.

Shanghai Boni Housekeeping, one agency on the list, boasts that “Filipino maids are the most professional nannies in the world.” A man answering its hotline offered to arrange a helper in two days for an agent fee of 8,000 yuan (US$1,190). When asked about the legality of the service, he said his company had been doing this for three years without punishment.

Many agencies demand that most of their contracted Filipino maids have a bachelor’s degree or above, and are able to provide a high-quality service after receiving professional domestic service training. Thus, “Filipino maid” has become a synonym for high-end service.

A one-time fee of 79,000 yuan (US$12,008) has to be paid to employ a Filipino maid, covering brokerage and fees for transportation, visa application and customs clearance. The agencies usually take a brokerage fee from both the maid and the employer, and get commissions via receiving payment on behalf of the maid for the first six months of the contract.

In Beijing, a common Filipino maid can currently get 6,000 yuan (US$912) per month; well experienced or bilingual maids can get 7,500 yuan. And the ones dubbed “golden maids” can receive up to 8,000 yuan every month.

‘Black’ maids favored, rights risked

Filipino maids on the Chinese mainland usually hold a business visa which requires renewal every six months. Most of them are registered as translators or foreign language teachers in foreign enterprises.

Unregistered and inexperienced Filipino maids are very popular because without a valid visa, the employer can pay her less without worrying she may run away.

As for the rights of the maids, the contracts usually only stipulate that the employer should not open the employee’s letters, withhold her personal items or show disrespect for her religious beliefs; the employee can ask the agency for help if abused by the employer.

Thirty-eight-year-old Mary is a “black” Filipino maid. She used to make 3,380 yuan per month in Hong Kong. When she came to Beijing, her employer promised to pay her 6,000 yuan per month after she had worked satisfactorily for one year. “But the employer didn’t keep the promise. Then, I threatened to leave and work for others,” recalled Mary.

“My employer got angry and drove me away without giving me my visa. That’s how I became ‘black’,” she said.

Filipino maids cannot leave China without a valid visa. Even the ones holding a business visa must not refer to themselves as a nanny or maid while checking out.

The growing number of undocumented Filipino workers in China has attracted the attention of the Philippine Government. Last year the Overseas Employment Administration, a government body, warned that underground recruiters were luring helpers to work for mainland families using business or tourist visas, which do not give them the right to work and expose them to potential legal penalties.

Foreigners overstaying their Chinese visa and working illegally can be jailed for up to 15 days and fined up to 20,000 yuan. Those who unlawfully employ foreigners can face penalties of up to 100,000 yuan.

“I was so scared all the time,” said LJ, a 45-year-old Filipino helper who has been in China for 10 years and did not want to use her real name. Much of her time was spent hiding from the police until she found a rare opportunity to work for a foreign diplomat’s family, granting her legal working status.

LJ said that because of their undocumented status, Filipinos were unable to seek legal redress in cases where they faced physical abuse. Domestic helpers in Hong Kong and Singapore are official employees so they have access to the legal system.

China a luring market

Asia Pacific Mission of Migrants, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, has been receiving inquiries from Filipino maids about mainland job opportunities since 2013 and advises them against moving because of safety concerns. “The helpers want to go somewhere with better prospects,” said Rey Asis, its program coordinator. “They are looking for higher wages in China.”

LJ said overstaying Filipinos could earn about 7,000 yuan a month working for Beijing households. That compares with a minimum salary of HK$4,210 (US$543) for overseas domestic helpers in Hong Kong and a minimum equivalent to US$400 for Filipino domestic workers in Singapore.

Wu Jian, a delegate to the National People’s Congress, has been advocating opening up the Shanghai market to foreign housekeepers. He believes if the ban is lifted, demand could easily be bigger than in Hong Kong, where 340,000 overseas domestic workers are employed.

Dela Torre, labor attaché at the Philippines consulate in Hong Kong, told the Financial Times in an interview last year that he was asked by the Philippine Government to explore opportunities for Filipino workers in China, at a pivotal time for relations between the two nations. “I hope the relations between China and the Philippines would improve later on,” he said, “so it will allow us to make this possible.” (SD-Agencies)

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