The quest for a viable Kasambahay Bill
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2013-01-17

There’s a real need for Senate Bill #78, or better known as the Kasambahay (house help) bill, and its House counterpart version. Our house helpers have long been the victims of abuse ­— some of it verbal and some of it physical.

In all my 64 years on this earth, it continues to baffle me how those who claim to be Roman Catholics cannot even accord their house help humane treatment. Didn’t Jesus Christ command us to love the least of our brethren? Check out where the abuses are being committed and you’ll find that it’s being done in both the upper and middle classes.

Through the years, from the feedback our house helps give us, we’ve learned about the mean treatment that these masters and mistresses apply when dealing with their house helps. These are shared experiences from the house helps of our neighbors, mostly from our previous residences. The heart of a just person will seethe with rage upon hearing some of these maltreatment stories.

The attitude could be a carry over from the Spanish times when house helps were called muchachas. Muchachas eat only after the master has had his repast. They can eat only at the kitchen and never at the main dining hall. In some households, they are given their own food, quite different from what the family eats. The comparison is like that of beefsteak Tagalog and dried fish. No doubt, this culture at home has influenced many youngsters to have the same mindset towards the underprivileged. That would tend to show how insensitive the elite of this country is to the poverty around them.

My wife Mey and me have been reciprocated with the loyalty of our house helps by compensating them more the monthly salary norm. Perhaps owing to the better wages and benefits that we pay them, plus midyear and Christmas bonuses, and our way of treating them like the neighbor Jesus Christ asked us to love — we’ve had the benefit of having Betty, our cook and house keeper, and Lydia, our laundry woman and house exterior cleaner, for over 30 years now. Our late driver Tate had served us for 25 years, and we miss him.

The Kasambahay Bill should be supported for its endeavor to provide house helps with the regular benefits of employees. In these hard times, we cannot really overpay our house helps, especially those who are supporting a family outside our home. Social security benefits have been long overdue for our house helps. In fact, when they reach retirement age, these social security benefits cannot even provide them a decent life.

Because most of the house helps are incapable of planning for their future, these benefits that the Kasambahay Bill mandates can make up for the lack of planning ability. We must remember also that financial planning isn’t feasible if there are no excess funds to plan. Have you ever heard of a house help who managed to save at least P200,000 during 30 years of service?

The Kasambahay Bill should be fair to both the master of the house and the house help. A one-sided Kasambahay Bill that benefits the house help but imposes unrealistic burdens upon the employer might result in fewer jobs for house helps. The master of the house also has to bear some cost realities and that limits what can be afforded for the hiring of house helps.

Most sensitive to these new burdens are the middle class households. The legislators have to consider how this will impact on the middle class because they would logically be the biggest number of house help employers. The objective is to generate better benefits for house helps and not to reduce their employment opportunities.

The task of the Kasambahay Bill is to first determine the mean for the wages of house helps. Only by doing so will the legislator appreciate the true level of market absorptive capacity. If the Kasambahay Bill results in the reduction of house helps being hired, that would mean that the legislators miscalculated what the master of the house could afford. It’s after determining the market absorptive capacity when the added benefits can be calculated and imposed.

After the People Power Revolution, there was a marked difficulty in getting house helps here. Why? Because this was the period when Filipinos were lured to the better wages that overseas employers were paying. This overseas number was reduced when standards were set because of the abuses many of our house helps were being subjected to by their cruel masters and mistresses abroad.

These days many are more inclined to seek employment as house hold helps because of the mismatch between average daily wage and cost of living. House helps don’t have to spend for food and shelter and if frugal, could save all their income for future needs. Very few employed Filipinos can build such an income to savings ratio because the high cost of living allows them no opportunity to save.

Erratum: Regarding my January 13 column on roughness in the PBA, Dr. Tony Cayco of Makati Med alerted me that the current PBA Commissioner is Mr. Chito Salud, and not the late Rudy Salud, his father. Mea culpa, Commissioner Chito.

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Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

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