OSLO - Filipino au pairs from Denmark and Norway are set to arrive here in Oslo this week for a conference to discuss their situation and come up with recommendations for problems they confront as au pairs.
More and more Filipinas are coming to Scandinavia and Europe to work as au pairs, a cultural exchange arrangement that allows cultural visits of young people from all over the world in host families in exchange for light work such as babysitting and some housework.
In Norway, the number of au pairs that have entered the country has jumped from 78 in 2000 to 2,090 in 2008 according to reports from the Norwegian Immigration Department (UDI). This means that 7 out of 10 au pair permits issued by the department are given to Filipinos despite the ban on au pair deployment by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) since 1997.
In her 2009 FAFO research study, "On Equal terms? An evaluation of the Norwegian au pair scheme", Cecile Oeien attributed the high demand for Filipino au pairs in Norway to the global reputation of Filipinos as professional, hardworking houseworkers.
However, the au pair arrangement has been widely criticized in Norwegian media as exploitative of young people who are being made to work as underpaid and overworked househelps in Norwegian households. Au pairs in Norway generally receive up to 4000 kroners a month (about P32,000) in allowance instead of a salary. The host usually shoulders travel and lodging costs, and language course tuition.
In another study, "Global workers in the Norwegian Welfare State", Ragnhild Sollund of the Norwegian Social Science Center (NOVA) found that Filipino au pairs in the country are generally contented with their situation but the arrangement, as it exists today, leaves room for exploitation and compares the au pair's situation to that of a "lottery" where one can either end up either with a good or bad employer.
This situation, Sollund says, is due to the unclear rules in the au pair scheme in Norway that does not allow compensation for more work done over that is stipulated in the scheme. The UDI rules specify that the au pair should only do light work, babysitting and care of animals but cannot perform work of a househelp or a full-time nanny. The distinction lies in the number of hours worked and not of the type of work performed.
Au pair protection
The FAFO study also shared Sollund's findings and recommended that the present structural framework of the au pair arrangement be redefined to reflect the changes in the actual work performed by the au pair, their relations to their employers in order to prevent possible exploitation. It also called for an establishment of an independent organization to protect the au pairs from exploitation by providing help to navigate the Norwegian bureaucracy, information on au pair regulations and the different public services that can be availed of.
Filipino au pairs who have encountered problems with their employers have often turned to social networks such as the church, Filipino organizations and even families and friends to seek help. There is, however, a growing need for a support mechanism for the au pairs such that initiatives to bring them together culminated in the holding of a conference.
The conference to be held on November 20, dubbed "Daughters of Globalization: A Conference about Filipino Au pairs in Denmark and Norway", is being organized by the Babaylan-Denmark, the Philippine Women's Network in Europe in cooperation with local Filipino organizations in Norway.