foreign worker ass 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When giving talks to the Israeli public on the plight of migrants, I have often
been told “we have a Filipina and she’s like one of the family.”
of course not true. The “Filipina” domestic worker, who may well be from Nepal
or Sri Lanka – Filipina having become the generic form for all care workers – is
anything but a member of the family. Unlike labor migrants, family members are
not replaced every five years, nor are they deported. And it is precisely
because no member of the family is willing to carry out domestic work that
migrants are employed.
Yet the phrase speaks to a deeper truth. Domestic
work has always enjoyed the dubious status of being women’s duty.
for one’s family has remained unrecognized as employment. Thus, women’s
advancement has never been the result of acknowledgement of their contribution
at home, but rather by getting out of it. That is, for those that
Women comprise half of the world’s migrants, and within the care
sector they are a majority. Although the share of remittances sent by women is
roughly the same as those sent by men, according to a 2006 UN report, female
migrants earn less yet send a greater portion of their earnings.
remittances contribute to the health, education and development of their
families. They care for both their families back home and the ones that employ
them. At once hailed and marginalized, they are expected to sacrifice for others
There are currently some 60,000 domestic care workers here.
Most are women. It is the largest sector employing migrants in the country, and
it is on the rise. The combination of an aging society with the privatization of
welfare services has led to an increase in demand for care labor, preferably
cheap. Women migrants care for the elderly and treat the disabled. They enable
them to remain in their homes, enjoy a higher standard of living and retain
their dignity at a low cost to them and society as a whole.
workers are themselves denied the right to live in a dignified manner. Interior
Ministry directives prohibit labor migrants from forming any type of family
Not only are they denied the right to bring their families
with them, but they are also forbidden from forming relationships with other
migrants while in here.
Female migrants who become pregnant must send
their children away or lose their legal status. This policy has recently been
criticized by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against
Women are expected to make sacrifices: for their children, for
their husbands, for their parents and for society. This is taken for granted. At
the same time, their contribution is overlooked and remains unrewarded. Domestic
care workers are among the lowest earners. They are not paid for overtime, yet
are required to be on call 24/7. They are dependent on their employers for their
visa and can be easily exploited. A report by the Hot Line for Migrant Workers
and Kav La’oved details the common practice of denying workers’ rights such as
minimum wage, time off and severance pay. Female care workers in particular are
vulnerable to verbal, sexual and physical violence.
Who cares for female
migrants? We don’t know, and we don’t care. They subsidize our welfare system
and at the same time are excluded from it. They care for our families, but are
denied the right to form families. They enable the elderly and disabled to
remain at home, yet are required to leave their families behind. It seems that
the more appreciation there is for the sacrifices made by women, the less
remuneration they receive.
So please, don’t say “they are like a member
of the family.”
Pay them well instead. Don’t glorify their sacrifice, but
rather acknowledge their contribution and treat them as equals.The
writer was formerly executive director of the Hot Line for Migrant Workers, and
is currently reading for a MSc in migration studies at the University of Oxford.