Filipino domestic workers in UK launch self-help group

By Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Sep 25 2013 09:41 AM | Updated as of Sep 26 2013 12:44 AM

LONDON - A group of overseas Filipino workers launched a new organization which aims to support the needs of domestic workers in the UK from immigration advice to social networks.

Filipino Domestic Workers Association UK (FDWA) was officially launched in a meeting at St Anne’s Church in the Soho neighborhood of central London on Sunday, September 22. It has approximately 30 founding members and a total of 60 members to date.

"We’re a self-help group," said Sheila Tilan, co-founder of FDWA. "We don’t want to rely on institutions or the government. We took our own initiative to rely on ourselves."

She added: "We need this organization to focus on the needs of migrant domestic workers, particularly Filipinos, because there are so many here in the UK."

Dozens of members and supporters were joined by special guest speakers at the launch, including human rights campaigner Susan Cueva from Kalayaan, Labor Attache Bing Lavilla from the Philippine Embassy in London, and volunteer Mariko Hayashi from Migrant Voice newspaper, all whom expressed support for the new group.

"As migrants in another country, we need to stand up for our rights for our voice to be heard by the wider society," said Hayashi, who is originally from Japan.

"What’s amazing is that this group came together not just to defend Filipino domestic workers’ rights, but also other migrant workers, other domestic workers, and other women."

FDWA also elected its first batch of officers, namely: Phoebe Dimacali as President; Sheila Tilan as Vice-President; Eva Mayor as Secretary; Benny Clutario as Treasurer; and Florence Cayboen as Public Relations Officer.

According to a study by Kalayaan, a London-based charity helping domestic workers, there are approximately 17,000 migrant domestic workers (MDW) who enter the UK every year as of 2010. 80% of MDWs in Britain come from the Philippines. Of the total, 85% are women, and many of whom are vulnerable.

Kalayaan reports that MDWs seek help for different kinds of abuse and exploitation. The majority of whom complain over lack of breaks and days off, while others experience unreasonably low wages, employers withholding passports, physical abuse and other injustices.

FDWA aims to support these vulnerable workers as a first point of contact for information, assistance, and support in all areas including legal affairs, immigration, employment, housing, education and social activities.

Tilan, who herself has been a domestic worker for over a decade, revealed to ABS-CBN Europe that they are already assisting on six cases with varying circumstances, including victims of human trafficking and an alleged rape.

The group also wishes to campaign for wider domestic worker issues, from the restitution of the domestic worker visa with the right to change employer in the UK, to the ratification of the United Nation’s ILO Convention 189 for the rights of domestic workers around the world.