Although working professionals and permanent residents are undoubtedly a minority among the Filipino’s in Hong Kong, many of those working as domestic workers were professionals in their own country before they came here. It is quite common to find many of these domestic helpers used to be teachers, nurses, social workers, accountants and even doctors.
As Mandap points out, the minimum requirement for Filipino workers who wish to apply for overseas employment is a high school graduate certificate. All the Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong have completed secondary school education and some hold recognised degrees.
Considering their education level and fluent English, Mandap has a lot of domestic workers who are college graduates writing for her. She feels it is a pity that her writers are not allowed to work as work as anything other than domestic helpers because of visa restrictions. Their professional skills and knowledge could contribute to Hong Kong society, for instance in Hong Kong’s hospitals which are experiencing a severe shortage of nursing staff.
Filipino workers, including professionals, have been leaving their home to work as domestic helpers since the Philippines government made it a government policy to promote the export of labour in the 1970s. It did so with an eye on easing unemployment in the country and the remittances the workers sent home.
Today, educated Filipinos and professionals work as foreign domestic workers for the better pay and living conditions abroad and because of the difficulties of getting work back home. The salary of a domestic worker in Hong Kong is equivalent to that of a junior executive in the Philippines.
Yet Mandap says many of the Filipinos she has worked with are desperate to have a job in the Philippines. Mandap and her husband who is also a permanent resident Filipino in Hong Kong sponsored the Central Examination for Filipino teachers to be held in Hong Kong. They even invited the Education Secretary of the Philippines to fly over to offer permanent jobs to people who passed the exam.
Although the salary was half of what they earned here, a lot of them accepted the offer. Mandap clearly remembers the tears of the people who were getting an opportunity to go back to the Philippines. Being called madam again meant a lot to them as they were used to calling their employers madam.
“This symbolises recovering dignity and pride in what they have done,” says Mandap.
The ultimate goal for many Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong is to earn enough money to retire in the Philippines. That is also why most Filipinos have reservations about the idea of applying for the right of abode in Hong Kong.
Cynthia Ca Abdon-Tellez, the Director of the Mission for Migrant Workers has lived in Hong Kong for 30 years but has never thought of applying for permanent residency.
Tellez says that for many Filipino domestic helpers, Hong Kong is the most ideal place to work since it is safe, stable and has relatively good labour practices and a greater degree of freedom compared to places like Singapore and Malaysia.
While many Filipino professionals swallow their pride to work as domestic helpers because of the pay, Tellez says some do resent the nature of their jobs. When asked about what they do in Hong Kong, they do not want to say the word “domestic”. If they know the person asking is also a domestic helper, they will say “like you” instead.