As Italy grapples with COVID-19 outbreak, so have Pinoy domestic workers there

Mye Mulingtapang, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 13 2020 06:39 PM | Updated as of Mar 13 2020 09:17 PM

Workers clean the streets near the Milan central station on Friday, the fourth day of an unprecedented lockdown across of all Italy imposed to slow the outbreak of coronavirus. Daniele Mascolo, Reuters

MILAN, Italy—Majority of the Filipinos in this country work in the household service sector. Domestic workers, babysitters and non-cohabiting carers are affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Italy has climbed to the second spot with the most number of positive cases at 15,113 and the death toll reached 1,016.

Italy is home to 168,292 Filipinos, according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics.

Marielle (not her real name) works as a cleaner and has to travel for more than an hour every day to reach her workplace outside Milan. She chooses her job over health risks just to earn for her family in the Philippines. Alcantara, uncertain of the government provisions, continue to report to work.

“Gusto ng amo ko na mag-stay pa ako sa trabaho pero sabi ko natatakot na ako, kinailangan ko pa gumawa ng dahilan para makauwi ng maaga,” Alcantara says.

(My employer wanted me to stay longer but I told her I’m scared, I had to make an alibi so I can go home early.)

According to Lorenzo Gasparrini, general secretary of the National Association of Domestic Employer Families, household service workers and non-cohabiting carers can file a leave from work and just recoup the hours lost once the emergency is over.

If the housekeeper wants to continue working and the family wants to suspend work, both parties can find an agreement, possibly written, with the commitment to recouping the lost hours. If the housekeeper insists on coming, the family could grant the worker a vacation leave.

Absence from work can be treated as a holiday period. If the worker is not entitled to a vacation leave, the employer should guarantee compensation in advance without having to terminate the employment relationship. If the housekeeper hired under a contract cannot go to work in the face of the new decree, she may take leave.

Household service workers are excluded from unemployment insurance or from other social safety nets. Families who continue to pay a housekeeper who does not work because of the emergency cannot ask for a refund.

“We are asking families not to lay off workers to avoid leaving them in a situation of absolute poverty in this moment of national emergency. However, employer families should have the same attention as other companies,” Gasparrini said.

Currently, the terms of payment of social security and welfare contributions are suspended, only for the 11 municipalities of the previous declared red zones, until May 1. Given the general lockout of all activities on the national territory, an extension of the moratorium is possible.

Filipino domestic helpers without regular employment contracts and legal documents are also at risk. With the lockdown and stricter movement regulations, a self-declaration document is needed.