NORWAY - The Philippine and Norwegian governments will forge a bilateral agreement soon to lift the ban on au pair deployment to Norway.
This was announced by Philippine ambassador to Oslo, Elizabeth Buensuceso, at an au pair conference dubbed, "Daughter of Globalization: An au pair conference", held in this city.
She said the move was long expected after a series of negotiations and consultations among relevant Norwegian authorities, the Philippine embassy, and the Filipino community.
"We have gotten very positive responses from the Norwegian government and on the part of the Philippine government. We are certain that we can already give the recommendation to lift the ban," Buensuceso said.
She also announced that the implementing guidelines for this are already being drafted and the Philippine government will be submitting its own suggestions to reflect the changes it wants to be included.
The lifting of the ban however will only cover au pairs traveling to Norway and not to other European countries like Denmark, although negotiations with the Danish government are also underway.
Buensuceso explained: "The reason we chose to do it in Norway is because we are convinced that they have the capacity to police their ranks. Also, because Norway has opened itself to us and sat down with us to discuss the solutions to the problem."
Babaylan Denmark founder Filomenita Hoegsholm welcomed the move to lift the ban, but he said the bilateral agreement must ensure that Nordic countries police themselves since "there is so much to be done in terms of policing among the host families, and the au pair agencies who speculate on the families and earn double fees from the host families and the au pairs."
The Philippine government has banned the deployment of female migrant workers under the au pair program since 1998 due to reports of abuse, discrimination and prostitution of Filipino women.
But despite the ban, a dramatic rise in the number of Filipino au pairs in Nordic countries like Norway and Denmark has been recorded.
In Norway, the number of Filipino au pairs grew to 2,060 in 2008 from only 78 in 2000. Similarly, Filipino au pairs in Denmark rose to 2,163 last year from only 21 in 1999.
New agreement, new opportunities
In her study, FAFO Researcher Cecile Oeien Oeien discussed how the deployment of au pairs became an explosive political issue in Norway.
She said that while a global migrant scheme for au pairs is favorable, "this is not politically viable in an environment where the ruling Arbeiderpartiet (Labor party) do not want migration of low skilled labor to Norway."
She said that new guidelines for au pair deployment should have increased focus on cultural exchange that would allow au pairs to enjoy less hours of work, opportunity to study, mandatory language courses paid for by host families, and the right to holiday pay and free board and lodging.
Asked about what they think the new au pair scheme should provide, Filipina au pairs in Norway cited the same things.
"There should be opportunity to study, join organizations, learn Norsk (Norwegian language)...you should have a chance to study here longer and find a job," said Herma Rodriguez, who came to Norway four months ago to work as an au pair after working in Denmark.
For her part, Sandra Bunda, who flew to Norway two months ago, would like to have a longer contract period.
"Sa akin lang, ang dapat baguhin sana ay kontrata. Dapat maging matagal 'di gaya ng ganito na palipat-lipat tayo. Katatapos mo lang sa isang bansa, lipat ka na naman sa ibang bansa (For me, what they should change is our contract period. It should be longer so we won't have to hop from one country to another all the time)," she said.
Norway only allows au pairs to work for two years, forcing some Filipino au pairs to seek employment in Denmark after their stint in the country or to apply as caregivers in Canada.