by DR. JAIME LAYA
They’re luckier than the poor woman with a cracked skull who recently arrived at NAIA in a wooden box. Curious about OFW life, I asked the couple seated beside me about their work. They were simple people from Sorsogon, and I had no reason to suspect any exaggeration in their affecting story.
The husband (“D”) was employed as a driver and the wife (“DH”), as a domestic helper, although D was an all-around houseboy. Their combined salary was the equivalent of ₧40,000 monthly. They reported to the lady of the house, an Egyptian woman named Zubaida and her daughter Nora. Zubaida’s husband is reportedly a high government official, but the Filipino staff was prohibited from talking to him.
D and DH’s working hours were from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. with a 30-minute lunch and dinner breaks, no days off. They were required to lock and leave their room at daybreak and turn in their keys, to be returned at workday’s end. CCTV cameras were all over the house and both were expected to be doing something, non-stop. Sitting down or staring out the window was promptly followed by a scolding, “dog” which they understood, and something else, probably worse, that they did not.
From time to time Zubaida and Nora gave gifts, moldy food or expired canned goods. One of them developed diarrhea and was allowed to consult a doctor (at the latter’s expense) three days later, after totally collapsing from dehydration.
Just before we met, the family was on holiday in Thailand, taking DH with them. For some offense, the wheelchair-bound Zubaida tried to slap DH. The latter managed to step aside and the blow didn’t land. Zubaida thereupon spat on DH’s face. The latter’s kneejerk reaction was to mutter OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration).
On their return to Oman, the couple was summoned by Zubaida, told they were dismissed, ordered to pack up, and handed plane tickets to Manila for the very next day. They were asked to acknowledge the receipt of their final month’s salary. D was also asked to hand over his wallet.
Just before leaving, the pair discovered that their packed luggage had been inspected, i.e., ransacked and scattered. Several of DH’s new bras and panties were missing—she was told that she didn’t need that many. D’s wallet was returned empty and their final month’s salary was not paid. Their TESDA certificate, marriage contract, labor documents, etc. were all not returned.
Grandson Yousoff escorted their taxi straight to the airport.
The bottom line: The employer had signed documents declaring payment of the duo’s final month salaries, and the employees had no proof that their savings had been stolen. The parting words of the abused and exploited were thanks to their recruiter who gave them enough pesos to get home to Bicol and the two small children they left behind.
The wealthy and powerful enjoyed two-and-a-quarter months’ slave labor.