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Domestic Help in the Philippines

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With our 2 oldest nieces in review school for their board exams in nursing and our youngest niece in 3rd year of nursing school, Elena decided to hire a maid or helper to assist her with taking care of the house.

In America, if you need assistance with the house cleaning, most average families hire a cleaning lady or company to come once a week, or twice a month to take care of the heavy cleaning. These people come to your house on the assigned days and to the vacuuming, mopping, dusting and scrubbing of the bathrooms and kitchen. After they are done, they leave. The cost, depending where you live can be around $50.00 USD.

Here in the Philippines, most homes, if they need the extra help hire a domestic helper that lives in the house. Many times they are young, fifteen to eighteen years old. They usually come from the provinces and/or a poor family. Their pay is usually around 1,500 pesos (approx. $30 USD) a month at first. Most of these girls only keep enough from their pay for their necessities and then send the rest of their pay home to assist their family. Besides their pay, they have room and board included, plus you usually pay any transportation costs to come from their province, if you arraigned their employment through a relative who lives in that province.

When Elena decided to hire a helper for the house, she did not want a girl who lives locally in Davao. She had two reasons for this decision.Β  First was, she did not want a girl that had friends or family to go meet or visit unannounced and the second was security. It would be easy for the girl to tell friends what valuables we have in the house and our schedules for being absent from the home. We have heard stories of items stolen and the helper disappearing too.

To find a domestic helper, Elena contacted two of her sister-in-laws from Surigao Province. One of her sister-in-laws spoke to some of the families she knew and found a seventeen year old girl that had graduated from high school and was interested to come. This girl, Mira, comes from a family of six siblings and is the next to youngest. She has dreams of saving and eventually be able to go to college.

From the moment Mira arrived in the house, she was a good fit. As she entered the house she saw dirty dishes in the sink from lunch. Without saying a word, she put down her bags and started washing the dishes. After we had a snack and Elena showed her where she could put her belongings and where she would sleep, Mira continued to do the basic cleaning of the house.

Now, different homes treat their help differently. If they have an extra small bedroom, that is for the helper. Unfortunately we do not have that luxury, so we bought a folding bed and Mira sleeps in one of our niece’s bedrooms.

Also many families keep a separation between the domestic help and the family. They are sometimes fed cheaper Filipino foods and they are not allowed to eat until the family is done. Or else they have to eat at a separate table. We are different, even though Mira is an employee; she sits with us at the table and shares the same foods we eat. We talk to her as if she is part of the family. Our three nieces treat her almost as a little sister. Is this a good thing or not, time will tell. I have heard stories of domestic helpers, especially if young, those get homesick, or have saved enough money for something they wanted and then quit after one or two months. I have also heard of domestic helpers that were treated as bad as a slave, quit after a month too.

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At first she was surprised how we have her sit with us for meals, how our nieces would talk to her and how we did not treat her as just an employee. Sunday is her day off, but since she does not know Davao nor has any friends here, we took her with us the day we went to SM Mall to see the Kadayawan floats. When we first got there we all went to our favorite restaurant. When we sat, we told her to look at the menu and order what she likes. She followed me and our nieces and had the Curry Chicken. She was so surprised we allowed her to join us for lunch and thanked us many times.

Another difference I have seen is in the malls or at restaurants. I have seen domestic helpers sitting in the wait area as the family they work for enjoys a nice meal. I do not know if the helper was fed first, allowed to eat later or had to wait until they returned home.

Now, I know I am new at having a helper in our home, and I am following Elena’s lead at how we treat Mira. I just feel this is how we should treat her. Just as if anyone is at our house, from a friend of ours, a friend of one of our nieces or even a tradesman friend discussing a project. If it is meal time, they are asked to join us to share the meal. If they get shy and say they will wait in the Sala until we are done, we get adamant and insist them joining us.

As always, I encourage hearing your comments, and you can tell me if you disagree with the way we treat Mira, but do it with respect. If you have had bad experiences, good experiences or stories you have heard are welcome. Any overly insulting comments will either be edited or deleted.

34 Responses to “Domestic Help in the Philippines”

  1. ExpatBrazil says:

    Here in Brazil our maid cost us US$320 per month plus transportation. The figure includes social security tax and a $52.00 per month add on payment above the minimum wage, which is $244.00 She has been with us for 12 years and will be finish the university next year. Of course, in the poorer regions of the country maids receive less than the minimum salary.

    • Bruce says:

      ExpatBrazil,
      I do not know what a maid costs in Manila, but wow it is expensive there. I guess I will have to stay in the Philippines and miss Carnaval. hahaha

  2. don m. says:

    Bruce are you the token male in this household? Maybe they keep you around to take out the trash?? Just a little joke. hahaha
    Do you get called to kill all the spiders? As always a very intresting post. We could use a maid in our house but as you said it is very high here to hire help.

    • Bruce says:

      Don,
      I joke I am the bed spacer and the driver. But it is nice having the females around. I never had to do the trash or any chores. I just eat, sleep, smoke and drive around.

      • Christine says:

        Oh, Bruce, you forgot you pay the bills too! Most important.
        But it is good to know you are treating your maid well. I have heard of stories where the employer is also the rich Auntie (or Mistress of the house), but they treat their maid/niece worse than a dog, as if she is not relations at all.

        I have just come back from the Philippines last month, and while staying with my brother, I got talking to their maid who is a middle aged Filipina lady. I was bemused (and intrigued) that in her opinion, white employers (be they Americans or Brits or Aussies) treated their maids better compared to a Arab or Chinese masters. Come to think of it, I have never heard of an American beating or starving their maids. Maybe someone has?

        • Bruce says:

          Christine,
          It is good to know I am in the higher standard of domestic employ. Different cultures look at employees differently.

  3. jan says:

    Bruce,
    My wife and I also have a helper in the house. Actually it is our 4th since we arrived last October. We have different experiences with them. I will not tell that here.

    We are pleased with the helper we have at this time. The girl is with us now about 4 months. She is doing her job very well and we pay her accordingly. We treat her with respect, but not if she is a member of the family. She usually eats with us at the same table having the same food as we have.
    We regret that she will soon leave us for personal reasons. So we have to look for a new one soon.

    You should take care that the helper is not using her cell phone whole day. If you do not make rules about her using her cell phone, she will not do her job anymore but keeps on texting whole day. We had a bad experience with that.

    • Bruce says:

      Jan,
      Elena told our girl, no cell use except at night. IF Elena has all talk, she will let her call home in the evening. Once her work is done, she can watch tv and we also offered her to use the computer. She is very good and not lazy.

  4. jan says:

    A maid in Manila region costs around 3 thousand. But I have heard of people in Makati and other ‘rich’ neighborhoods paying more tham 5000.

    • Bruce says:

      Jan,
      Wow, that is twice than here, but then again, the cost of living is higher there too. Maybe the maids for the rich have to wear the french maids outfits. hahaha

  5. Vanessa says:

    Actually, helpers for the rich people in Manila wear white uniform like nurses white shirts and white pants, almost like scrubs here in the US. I would hate to have my helper wear that. I treat all my mom’s helper the same way you do Bruce like a family. I remember my mom even send them to schools and educate them at home when mother have free time(she’s a teacher). But when it comes to house chore they really have to do what my mother asked them to do otherwise….. lol.

    • Bruce says:

      Vanessa,
      Thank you for your insight. Tom also makes a good point. We have mentioned, if our girl stays with us, and continues to be a good worker and honest, when our youngest niece graduates from nursing school, we might be able to help her with a college tuition.

  6. Tom says:

    I have never had a maid so what I am saying is hearsay from someone else. Be careful about making her too much a part of the family or she may begin to feel she isn’t obligated to do her chores. Nothing wrong with treating her well but once you set the precident with these things there will be complications if they are discontinued.

    Good luck she sounds good so far. 😎

  7. Rich says:

    ya what she said πŸ™‚

  8. wildcat75 says:

    Hi! Bruce,
    I think the key to find a good domestic helper is to let her continue her studies during night time as a working student and i’m sure she’s going to stay w/ you until she finish college, that is if she really wants to improve her life and find a better job coz being a maid is not bad but some people specially some rich family look down this poor people and treat them badly. I’d say it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to treat them like a family but give some limitation so she knows where to stand and treat them like a friend , i think that’s enough.I finished high school and college as a working student and took mostly night classes and get a degree in BACHELOR of SCIENCE IN COMMERCE major in ACCOUNTANCY. i know it’s not easy to study at night and work during daytime but if she really has a determination and patient she will attain her goal w/ flying colors and now that i found a job overseas i even help my former employer w/ some financial assistance and they’re never been more happier to see that i was able to pull through the hardship of life and beocme independent, and Elena was right on looking a domestic help in another province and i agree w/ her.

    • Bruce says:

      Wildcat,
      Welcome back. I have not seen you here for a while. right now we are covering 3 neices in school. Two are in review school for their boards and one in third year. We offered in a year or so, if our helper is still with us, we will help her with night school tuition.
      As we are learning, it is a thin line between treating her as family and remembering her place. This past Sunday, her day off, she went with our nieces to a garden park. When they got home, I told our helper, even though the girls like to include her, she has to be careful not to get to used to it. If a time comes where she is not invited, she cannot get angry or jealous.

  9. Alan says:

    House help in the Philippines is always a grab bag of sorts i guess . We did have a helper but she left to go work for a family member . We paid 2,000 a month and food of course but she did not live in instead staying with her family on back part of our lot ( Landlords relatives ) . πŸ™‚ She was an excellent helper and we wished her well and treated her pretty much like family as she ate with us and would sometimes accompany my wife places . Boundaries can be an issue but everyone’s situation is unique .

    • Bruce says:

      Alan,
      You are correct. I have heard of many different stories from lazy, homesick, better offer, and others. So far our girl is doing fine. Our sister-in-law brought 3 girls for some friends. One speaks no English and when the American husband askes her to do something, she goes to her room or to the wife to ask what he wanted. Another girl walks around looking dazed and does not work well. The bad thing, not like the states with refunds. Even if a girl does not work out, you have paid for her transportation to come here, and then her transportation back. I think a big problem is their age, many are young and either has dreams of comming to the city, wants to help support family, or is being pushed by the family to go to help support them and the girls are not ready to get out from under mamas wing.

  10. wildcat75 says:

    Bruce, another thing that you guys need to hire house help is to look for not so young maid ,probably in the late 20’s or above age, hiring helper in her teens will only give you so much trouble and headache and you’re going to have a language problem’s and immaturity, most of this young helpers are either force by their parents to work to support them like what you said, try to find someone who has goal in her life like wanting to finish high school and college or to save money in the future.They though just working at home is easy but it’s not and if they get bored and think they will have no freedom or her employer treats her badly she will decide to leave. That’s means she was not cut out to work as a maid.

    • Bruce says:

      Wildcat,
      I agree with your points, I just wonder if a girl is in her mid 20’s is she serious about a long term commitment or will get more interested with going out with friends or boyfriends. I think a younger girl or a woman in her 40’s or above will be more serious.

  11. Alan says:

    Just a follow – up on our last helper . She was 30 and had 5 kids already and of course no husband ( or at least none helping financially ) . And frankly , many don’t want more education as they get older .

    • Bruce says:

      Alan,
      I guess here as in the rest of the world, there are different reasons people work. With the laziness of many here, there are some I have heard, save a few months salary and then go back to the provinces since they feel they now have enough money to survive for a while. I asked our girl what here decision to work was. I asked if it was her idea or her parents. She told me it was hers so she can save to someday attend college and to also help her family.

  12. Dan says:

    I was young when I lived in the Philippines, but i can remember my grandmother always treating them respectfully and including them in some of the activities. At the same time, she clearly delineated the fact that there were rules that must be obeyed.
    The maids responded in kind and were always respectful in return. They seldom ate with us, but they were always offered the same food as us. The younger ones were a bit more boy crazy and would get scoldings for not doing there work or being irresponsible. Again, rules were set up and if they crossed the line too many times, they risked being fired.
    Last year I visited my cousin and we brought one of the maids along with us to Boracay to look after the kids. She was given spending money and time to enjoy herself and ate along with us; in fact, she played volleyball with us as well. My cousin trys provide common-sense instruction for his maids on goals, life-skills and provide them with opportunities for education and development. Some take advantage of the help and some are not interested.
    I would take the time to instill some guidelines for your help…not rules per se, but life lessons on how to develop and realize a goal; good, solid financial advice and how to plan for the future. These are things that she might not have been exposed to.

    • Bruce says:

      Dan,
      Your grandmother sound like a good woman. The only problem I have spoke to Elena and our nieces about is our nieces are treating out helper too much as a little sister. This can cause problems of oneday they do not invite her to join them on the helpers day off.
      Overall, the girl is doing well with us, but time will tell.

  13. Al says:

    Here in Manila as we speak we are talking about ~PHP3000/mo. Laundry, cooking, cleaning.

    • Bruce says:

      Al,
      Many of us Expats have different needs and expenses. For me, even though Manila has more restaurants and activities for Expats than Davao, the crowds and the crime is too much for me.

  14. Ray says:

    Regarding your Sep 4, 2009 article on “Domestic Help in the Philippines”, in the picture of the four Ladies, I noticed the House Helper in the background carrying the pink bag into the building.

    I lived in the Philippines back in the late 70’s / early 80’s. That I recall we had only two maids during my couple of years there. And if I also recall correctly, my Asawa said they came from the province (not sure which province). I think one was a second cousin; we kept loose contact with her and the Family she now has. I seem to think they did laundry (including ironing), house cleaning, cooking, watching the kids, shopping for food at the palengke, etc. I don’t recall having any problems with either one of our helpers. But then I never got involved in dealing with them.

    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed reading your website.

    • Bruce says:

      Ray,
      I am confused with the last part of the first sentence. Our helper in in the group of 4 and I do not know the person with the pink bag climbing aboard the float.

      For us, we have no little kids and the food shopping is done by Elena and I on Sundays. Early morning is the palengke and later in the day we go to the mall for the rest of the food shopping. Our helper does the rest except Elena does or supervises the cooking.

      Thanks for visiting and I hope you will continue.

      • Ray (Orlando FL) says:

        I thought maybe the person in the background may have been you (that they convinced you to carry the bag while they posed for the photo op).
        You know you’re making a lot of us envious. Living in the Philippines, got several Women around the house to chat with, taking care of you (okay maybe it requires patience on your part). I have four Sisters, I can somewhat imagine what you’re going through (except all my Sisters spoke English).
        I miss going to the palengke, as I love to bargain.
        Take care and enjoy the good life for us too. / Ray

        • Bruce says:

          Ray,
          As an American man, I would not be seen carrying a pink bag. hahaha
          Next time you visit, you can join us for our sunday morning shopping at Agdao Market.

  15. Sharira Fong says:

    Hello Bruce,

    House help are but an extension of who we are, or what we want to be treated for now or in the future. They are human just like us, they have feelings and they react as like us. The only thing that separate us from our house maid(s)/househelp is the status in our society. You are in a good social position and they are lower than you..

    They are the reflection of who we are as individual.

    I have a nanny since I was born, I grew up from a strict yet understanding and loving family. We treated our nannies the way we treated our family members. From the start my parents draw “an imaginary line between me and my nanny (which I have learned from them)so as she always remember where she is standing, and for her to know her major responsibility and for her to play her part in our family with respect”.

    I grew up, have my own life and live with her as my “second mother”. She eats with me, she cries, laugh, dream and learn life with me, we never argue or fight although there are some little misunderstanding along the way. I give her opportunities to grow as an individual,I let her travel with me in some of my trips,I send her to school to learn what she wants to achieve (she studed and finished vocational courses such as cooking and baking, sewing/tailoring, and even basic computer knowledge). And still served her major responsibility as my nanny. What is rewarding is she practiced her learnings to our family.

    She stayed with me in my life’s journey. We also experienced a lot of lifes ups and down. I was even there during those romantic time of her life. We also visited her family in the province every month or when we have opportunity (most especially when Im already traveling for work). Her family’s life improves and her 2 other siblings finished studies from her salaries and earnings.

    I let her own family as part of my life also. The only sad thing is that she died in a hospital (from old age issue), with my cousin and not with me, as Im on one of my trips. And I took the first flight back to manila when I heared the news to attend and grieve for her.

    She never got married, rather she grews old with me as my second mom and until now I always missed her. I am very much welcome and treated well, everytime I visited her own family in the province.

    I know theres a lot of different stories out there regarding “househelp issues”. All I want to share with you is; there is no right or wrong way of treating a house help. it all depends on the employeer on the way he/she is being remembered by her employee(s)and there family.

    I always lean on the saying “What you plant is what you reap”.

    You are doing very good with Mira and thats all it matters. Love, respect and trust are all earned, but never you can buy any of those.

    I believe Mira is not yet exploited with “new age” life style as she is still practicing overwhelming appreciation “attitude” for little things you shared with her. It is now in your hand on how to norture and mold Mira the way you want her to be, and they way you will be remembered by her and her family.

    Mira will not stay with yuor family “forever”, so why not enjoy life and grow with her and your family with respect and harmony.

    Good luck and God Bless.

    Tell me and I’ll forget;
    Show me and I may remember;
    Involve me and I’ll understand.
    – Sharira Fong

    • Bruce says:

      Sharira,

      Your story is wonderful and I am glad it ll worked out for you. Mira saved her salary and then decided she preferred to go home and live well on her savings. The day we took her to the bus terminal, she mentioned to Elena she wanted to come back after a month. Elena told her, since she quit, we would not take her back.

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