Confession of an OFW
This is a story of an overseas Filipino worker here in Geneva. Her name is Elena. For a change from the usual woes and heartaches of our modern-day heroes, hers is a successful story, although one that may yet end sadly because she does not have any valid visa to work abroad after she reneged from her work contract.
Elena actually started working overseas when she was hired, through an employment agency, for a two-year contract, as a domestic helper in Jordan. Elena’s monthly pay under the contract was supposed to be U.S. $400 but only received monthly, half of that amount. In spite of that and the fact that her working hours was from 18 to 20 hours a day and barely had enough sleeping time, Elena persevered so she could send money to her family in Zamboanga to start building a house for her two children and her mother. Elena’s husband passed away before she decided to work abroad. After the two-year contract expired, this Chabacana went home. But her house was not yet finished, so Elena decided to once again apply for work overseas.
Elena applied with another employment agency which could decide where to deploy her. She was hired for a two-year contract but only after she underwent a training period of two months. This time, Elena was assigned to work for an Arab businessman in Abu Dhabi under the same terms as her previous contract. Elena is not sure who between the agency and the employer paid for her transportation although the transportation cost could have been deducted from her salary aside from the one month advanced salary that was given to the agency when she got the contract. Elena’s passport was delivered by the agency to her employer “for safekeeping”.
After only three weeks in Abu Dhabi, Elena’s employer decided to go on vacation in Montreaux, Switzerland which is some 95 kilometers from Geneva. The employer needed to bring Elena as babysitter, among other tasks. The businessman and family travelled to Montreaux ahead of Elena and other household helpers to await their visa to travel. Elena was able to follow her employer to Montreaux. After a week, Elena befriended a Filipino whom she met while babysitting in the park. Soon Elena confided to her new friend about her working hours in Abu Dhabi and about her monthly salary. She came to know from her friend that there were many undocumented Filipino domestic helpers working in Switzerland and that Swiss authorities were allegedly lax in the implementation of visa regulations.
Elena was also told that OFWs there would help each other in finding work, as such. Elena then decided to stay on in Switzerland after her friend had arranged for a place for her to stay while Elena still had no work yet when she leaves her job. She was lucky that her employer did not ask Elena to give back her passport to him when she arrived from Abu Dhabi.
While Elena’s Arab employer and his family were still vacationing, she escaped with the help of her Filipino friend who then brought her to Susan, another Filipino, who lives in Lausanne, some 30 kilometers from Montreaux. Susan had earlier lived in with a Swiss husband but were separated. After nine days in Lausanne, Susan brought Elena to Geneva.
In Geneva, Elena shared a studio type apartment with five other undocumented Filipino domestics. Through referrals, these Filipino domestics would work part time in apartments and houses, mostly of Filipino expatriates, needing their all-around services. There are several Filipino expatriates working in the different organizations affiliated with the United Nations Organization. Apparently, most of them and some of their foreign office mates whom they endorse are the clients of these Filipino domestics here, aside from Filipinos working in non-governmental organizations and other big business corporations living in Geneva.
Elena has many clients such that her week is always full working in at least one household per day. This is aside from special requests by a client to work on a weekend. She is paid 25 Swiss Francs (CHF) (P1,350) per hour and works from two to four hours a day. To Elena, her work condition here is a far cry from that of her situation in Jordan and Abu Dhabi where she worked for 18 to 20 hours a day and receives U.S. $200 a month, a pay that she could easily earn for less than a week’s work of two to four hours in a day. Elena rented a bigger studio type apartment for CHF850 a month and she takes in Filipino boarders. She allots CHF400 a month for food and necessities. Elena spends her free time with fellow Filipinos expanding her contacts for possible work referrals.
Elena’s work is not affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, because her regular clients continue to hire her. But she is very conscious about observing health protocols, knowing that her work condition became riskier because she takes public transportation and goes from one house or apartment to another everyday. She is taking up French lessons, the official language in Geneva, because the number of her French speaking clients is growing.
Elena has not been checked on or investigated by Swiss authorities despite the fact that she has been working in Geneva for almost 11 years already. She claims that for as long as you do not commit any crime, the authorities will not notice you. In fact Elena applied for social security (AVS) but needs to submit an average cumulative monthly income of CHF2,500 as certified to by a number of her clients before she could avail of the social security services. So far, three of her clients have already signed for some amounts and she needs one or two more to reach the threshold.
Elena was proud to say that her house in Zamboanga was already built complete with furnishings for the comfort of her children and mother. Although she plans to return to the Philippines, she needs to earn more to provide for her retirement.
Elena believes that her grit and determination coupled by her deep faith in the Almighty carried her through all the risks that she took for the sake of finding a better future here than working in her Inang Bayan. — (DEL CLARVALL)