Statement of the Commission on Human Rights in support of proposed amendments to the Domestic Workers Act and Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code to strengthen the protection of domestic workers

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights in support of proposed amendments to the Domestic Workers Act and Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code to strengthen the protection of domestic workers

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) lauds current efforts to strengthen the protection of the rights, dignity, and welfare of domestic workers through the amendment of Republic Act No. 10361, also known as the Domestic Workers Act or Batas Kasambahay, and Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code on Qualified Theft. Introduced by Senator Raffy Tulfo in response to the severe maltreatment faced by Ms. Elvie Vergara, the proposed amendments aim to recognize and value the dignity of domestic workers.

Among the proposed amendment in the Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) is to replace the term “domestic servants” to “domestic workers.” CHR supports this amendment as the current term reflects the emphasis on class distinctions and tolerance of social injustice in the past. Further, it ensures that the Constitution’s declaration of valuing the dignity of every human person is upheld by guaranteeing proper and equal representation of every individual in the law. It also removes the prejudicial undertones and inferior view towards domestic workers embedded in the term.

It must be emphasized that the very nature of the work of kasambahays make them vulnerable to abuse as it takes place at home where they often do not have co-workers. Many of them are also women who work in isolation. The Batas Kasambahay provides domestic workers protection in their employment but this has not been enough to deter some employers from committing abuses and maltreatment against their kasambahay.

The Commission also agrees to the proposal to remove domestic workers from the same RPC provision that singles out their sector for qualified theft or stiffer penalties for simple theft. While mutual trust and confidence exist between a kasambahay and employer, there are also many other similar professions that necessitate such level of trust and confidence. Therefore, it is discriminatory to single out domestic workers based on the said grounds. The law must avoid perpetuating existing culture of abuse considering that the said provision has been used by employers to threaten their kasambahay.

In recognition of the persisting instances of harassment against domestic workers, CHR supports the proposed amendments to strengthen penalties on crimes committed against domestic workers. We also welcome the proposal to establish emergency hotlines in every barangay that can be contacted by domestic workers in distress. This is aligned with the International Labor Organization’s 2011 recommendation to protect the rights of workers by ensuring that they are given immediate access to aid once they need them.

These proposed amendments only form part of a much broader goal to realize the fundamental principles and rights of domestic workers as articulated in the Domestic Workers Convention. After rescuing a domestic worker, other services must also be afforded to them such as, temporary shelter, counselling sessions, legal/medical/psychological services, financial assistance or livelihood, job placement, or even repatriation to her place of origin.

The Commission also stresses the importance of bolstering the information dissemination program of the Batas Kasambahay considering that only 41% of them are aware of the law based on a 2020 survey conducted by the Philippines Statistics Authority and the Department of Labor and Employment. We urge the government and local government units to strengthen their efforts to increase awareness and understanding of relevant laws that uphold the rights of kasambahays. In line with this, CHR strongly recommends the setting up of Barangay Human Rights Action Centers (BHRAC) based on the Joint Memorandum Circular No.1, s. 2014 of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and CHR, which “aims to empower ordinary citizens to take the lead in the promotion and protection of human rights at the barangay level.” [1]. BHRAC may take the task of conducting information campaign on the Batas Kasambahay and other relevant human rights laws, including possibly monitoring cases of abuses of domestic workers and other vulnerable sectors.

The Commission expresses its gratitude for the renewed vigor of lawmakers to uphold the plight of this vulnerable sector. As important workers that provide essential services and support to families, it is imperative that we all work together in ensuring that domestic workers enjoy equal, if not more favorable treatment and protection, as other workers. ###

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[1] Joint Memorandum Circular No.1, s. 2014: https://www.dilg.gov.ph/PDF_File/issuances/joint_circulars/dilg-joincircular-20141219_d0214ba253.pdf