LIKE most of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), Jean (real name withheld to protect her privacy) went to Saudi Arabia because she could not find a stable job in the Philippines.
The 25-year-old single mother had no choice but to leave her three children under the care of her old parents in an upland village in central Philippines.
Jean had landed a two-year overseas job contract. For a monthly salary of P20,000, she worked as a housemaid for an Arab family of seven.
Jean labored round-the-clock, with barely enough time for sleeping and eating, to do household chores, including cleaning, cooking, doing the laundry.
"I was not given a day off. I was just there inside the house working the entire day. I was not given a chance to step outside,” Jean said.
Her only refuge was her mobile phone which she used to communicate with her family and friends outside. But she can only use it inside the bathroom.
The wife allegedly hit Jean when she caught her husband staring at her. The son of her employer also attempted to sexually abuse her, she claimed.
Once, Jean related that she had to strip naked in front of her lady employer.
“My employer thought that I may have been stealing something. I had to get naked so she could see whether I was hiding something in my body,” Jean said.
The wife then took Jean's belongings, her phone's SIM card, and withheld her salary.
Jean found a way to record a video, where she pleaded for help, and upload this on Facebook. For the next two months, her family in the Philippines sought assistance from Jean's recruitment agency in Manila and the Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia.
In July 2018, Jean's employer simply drove her to the airport and put her on a plane back to the Philippines without money and her personal belongings.
Back home, Jean was told she has to hire a lawyer if she wanted to retrieve her belongings and file a claim for her unpaid salary. She could not, however, afford a lawyer.
Jean is among the thousands of distressed OFWs. As of 2016, Migrante International documented 1,549 cases of maltreatment and 308 cases of rape and sexual abuses in Kuwait alone.
The group said women are most prone to abuse and exploitation.
Migrante also recorded 196 cases of OFW deaths; 3,827 convicted OFWs; and 130 OFWs on death row, majority of whom are women.
Jean urged government officials to immediately act on the cases of distressed OFWs.
Filipino workers overseas have also become the subjects of insults and scorn.
Just recently, Kuwaiti social media celebrity Sondos Alqattan insulted Filipino household helpers “for simply having their rights to rest-days and safekeeping of their passports.”
Rod De Leon, chairman of Migrante in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, said the “lack of decent job, opportunity for a bigger income, high employment rate, competition with new graduates, contractualization, low-grade salary, and increasing prices of goods” are the main reasons why Filipinos brave overseas work.
Independent thinktank IBON also cited the lack of job opportunities as the reason given by millions of Filipinos for working abroad.
The agency said the number of employed Filipinos fell by 663,000 to 40.3 million in 2017 from the year before and the number of unemployed rose by 66,000 to 4.1 million, equivalent to a jobless rate of 9.2 percent, the highest among Southeast Asian countries.
IBON said this was the “largest contraction in employment in 20 years.” It noted that an average of 4,694 Filipinos leave the country per day for overseas jobs.
Despite experiencing abuses in Saudi Arabia for a year in exchange for a “cheap” salary, Jean has no other choice but to process her documents again for another work opportunity abroad.
“I am hoping to find another work in Dubai. I won’t give up,” added Jean, saying that the future of her three children depends on her. (SunStar Philippines)