MANILA – Millions of Filipino nationals work outside their country. It’s an important economic sector here; the money they send home constitutes 10 percent of the country’s gross national product. In some countries they work in construction, in others as cooks, while in Israel, as they well know here, “Filipina” generally describes the caregiver taking care of a frail grandparent or disabled child.
This Filipina cooks and cleans, does the shopping and pushes the wheelchair for the daily outing, and also bathes her charge and takes care of bathroom needs. She works all day and is also present at night – the equivalent of at least two full-time jobs. Yet very few Israeli households employ two Filipinas. As a result, their workday almost never ends.
For this work, which few Israelis would be prepared to do, she gets minimum wage (from which hundreds of shekels are deducted). And before the snide remarks about “for them it’s a lot of money,” everyone should ask himself if he would agree to do such work, under these conditions and for such a wage. Stories about Filipinas who became millionaires after five years of changing adult diapers in Holon are ridiculous exaggerations. That Filipina sends a substantial portion of her wages to her family, including children and the elderly, who have remained here. Sometimes it’s the main source of support for numerous people.
She will also have to repay debts. To whom? To the broker and the employment agency that placed her. According to the Kav La’Oved organization, the brokerage fees can reach $10,000 or more, a huge sum in the Philippines. At best it will be a year until the worker pays off her debts and can send money back to her family; at worst it could be three years. According to employees’ testimony, around half of the brokerage fees, which are illegal, end up in Israeli hands. Incidentally, the increasing demand around the world for Filipina nurses has created a serious nursing shortage in the Philippines, as 70 percent of Filipina nursing school graduates end up working abroad.
These employment arrangements through brokers are the force behind the expulsion of the asylum seekers in Israel. After all, their work is needed; there’s hardly a restaurant or a street corner where you won’t find an Eritrean washing dishes or sweeping. Most of us don’t want to do this “dirty work” either. This means that the thousands who will be expelled and left to their fate will undoubtedly be replaced by other foreign workers, but this time they will arrive through employment contractors who will take a fat cut.
These contractors are well-connected to politicians and senior government officials. When I chaired the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, I was astounded by the vehement resistance to bringing workers to Israel through direct bilateral agreements. I quickly understood that interested parties wanted workers imported through brokers so they could make a fortune, and the government acceded to this.
Now they are talking about bringing workers from the Philippines to replace the asylum seekers at the restaurants and hotels. But Israel doesn’t have such an agreement with the Philippines. If such workers are brought in, it would contravene the state’s commitment to the High Court of Justice to employ workers only under agreements, and would encourage exploitation.
This is hypocrisy at its peak. This government, which is sowing fear of foreigners, is bringing in the most foreign workers. The more workers are brought in, the greater the number of those who will remain permanently in Israel – a completely natural process. Instead of accelerating the airlift from Manila or Beijing, the African asylum seekers should be given work permits so they can work in an orderly, supervised fashion, in accordance with all the rules. After all, they are already working and their employers are satisfied with them. I know this from conversations with hundreds of employers.
So enough of all this persecution, lies and incitement. These are human beings, they work hard, their work is needed and there’s no reason to bring other foreigners to replace them and enrich brokers with more illegal income.
Published in "Ha'aretz".