The Senate of the Philippines recently approved a bill extending the maternity leave of all women workers, from the existing 60-78 days to 120 days with pay and an option to extend for another 30 days without pay, regardless of civil status or legitimacy of her child. The proposed Expanded Maternity Leave Law of 2017 significantly extends the number of days of both maternity and paternity leaves regardless of public or private employment or method of birth/delivery.
Though the approved Senate bill is a strong indication that reproductive care work is gradually gaining the attention it deserves, whether it will apply to all women workers remains to be seen.
Emmeline Aglipay and Risa Hontiveros are the legislators who championed the bill in both Houses of Congress, and skillfully led the 16 year journey of the 2013 Magna Carta for Domestic Workers Act or Kasambahay Law. And there’s hope that the proposed law’s mention of all women will also include domestic workers.
Joy Tolentino is a 34-year-old mother of three and has been working as a domestic worker for the past 18 years. Extending maternity leave means working women can spend more time with their children and recover from childbirth, but domestic workers like Joy may not benefit from the same privileges.
Joy says: “Masuwerte ka kung yung amo mo papayagan ka, pero ang katotohanan talaga karamihan ng amo ay di nila tinitingnan na puwede magmaternity leave ang mga kasambahay nila kasi kasambahay lang naman sila tsaka siguro tingin nila para sa nag-oopisina lang yan.” (English translation: You consider yourself lucky if your employer will allow you to take a maternity leave, but the reality is that most of our employers do not see us as covered by these laws and its subsequent benefits because we are only domestic workers. They may think that the law only applies to women who work in offices.)
Lisa Garcia, one of Joy’s friends, is currently on maternity leave without pay. For Joy, Lisa and their friends who are also domestic workers, though they consider themselves fortunate to have employers who treat and compensate them well above the salary and benefits stipulated in the Kasambahay Law, they recognise that it is not the same for a lot of the domestic workers in the Philippines.
There are an estimated 600,000 to 2.5 million mostly women domestic workers in the Philippines. The Domestic Workers Law recognises domestic workers’ labour as valued and valuable work, similar to the formal labour sector. It strengthens respect, protection, and promotion of the rights and welfare of domestic workers or kasambahay. While this law is a step in the right direction, the sexual and reproductive health and rights of domestic workers still need to be addressed. This includes for example,more clarity around how the reform on maternity leave will intersect with the domestic workers’ policy since compliance to the Kasambahay law is already low because of weak monitoring and regulation.
Joy and Lisa form part of a group of domestic workers who meet at lunch in a mid-rise building in Manila. Under the cool, shaded spot, the women sit among clothes hung to dry and piles of dirty laundry waiting to be washed. After their employers have left for work, they converge on a folding table and share leftover dishes of paksiw/sinigang/adobo/menudo. Between bites of food and bouts of laughter, they share the joy and pain of missing family and lovers lost and found, as well as commiserate over stories of irritating and irritable bosses. They also discuss the recent murder of a 17 year old domestic worker who was allegedly beheaded by her employers.
For Joy, the proposed bill is commendable but she says, “It may not be for women like us. We still have a lot of things to fight for.”