1. What’s your name and Migrant group you represent?
I am Shiela Tebia-Bonifacio and I’m the Chairperson of Gabriela Hong Kong, the Hong Kong chapter of the Gabriela national alliance of progressive Filipino women’s groups in the Philippines. I was a teacher and a youth activist before I came here to work as a domestic worker. Maybe some of you are thinking why would a professional teacher in the Philippines like myself choose to come to Hong Kong and work as a domestic worker? The answer is simple: Survival. Because of poverty, and because of my family. Teaching is one of the lowest paid professions in the Philippines especially when you are a fresh graduate. And to be honest, my salary here as a domestic worker is higher than what I used to receive as a full-time teacher. If I had a choice, I would have chosen to stay with my family in the Philippines, but our situation forced me to leave and work here. At the time, my father was sick and all my siblings were studying. My mother was the only one supporting us financially. Though it's true that I was a teacher then, my salary was not enough to sustain us. This is a common situation of ordinary Filipinos. Like other Filipinos, women like us are forced to leave our love ones and seek a better life for our families by working abroad. It's not a choice; it was dictated by necessity. If only my beloved country provided us with sustainable work with a living wage, no mother will choose to leave her kids and miss seeing her children grow up.
2. Tell us a bit more of yourself and your group’s advocacy.
Being a domestic worker is difficult. Not all of us have good working conditions. Generally speaking, migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong are discriminated against by society and by law. In HK, migrant domestic workers, or MDWs, are excluded from the implementation of the statutory minimum wage. Most work between 12-16 hours a day. And because the Hong Kong government forced us to live-in with our employers, we are also 24-hours on call. Meanwhile, having proper accommodation is a serious problem for most of us. In the research, “Pictures from the Inside” conducted by the Mission For Migrant Workers, the longest-running service institution that provides guidance and assistance to distressed migrants, it said that 57% of migrant workers don’t have their own room. 1 out of 10 MDWs sleep in the kitchen, in a cupboard or on a platform on top of the washing machine, living room, by the backdoor, rooftop, etc. And because of the live-in arrangement policy, both employer and employee have no say on the matter. Even if the employer wants to give their worker a proper place for resting, they cannot let them live away from their house because both employer and the domestic worker can be subjected to prosecution. If a very basic and humane act of providing safe and private living and resting space for a migrant domestic worker is a crime in Hong Kong, who would then treat us as equals and as normal human beings?. Our dire situation taught us to stand, speak, fight for our rights and defend ourselves. Our collective experience thought us that if we will remain submissive, nothing will change. If we will remain silent, no one will pay attention to our situation and no one will fight for our concerns.
3. How do you sign up to be a member?
We have 6 member organizations; Gabriela Women Organization Hong kong Bank Chapter, Filipino Lesbian Organization, Filipino Women Migrants Organization, Women of Antique Phil. Independent Church, Gabriela Volleyball Team Chater Road Chapter and Filguys Gabriela Association Anyone can be a member of those organization and automatically be a member of GABRIELA HK. And for those groups or organization who wants to be affiliated with Gabriela HK and be part of our alliance, we can do orientation and if they accept our advocacy & principle as a national democratic alliance of Filipino women are welcome.
4. What improvements in Migrant lives would you like to see?
The reason why Gabriela HK join in the mass struggle of Filipinos in national industrialization in the Phil. Because we want to have job that can give enough income that will sustain the needs of our families, so we no longer separated from our love ones. But until this things not happen we want to see a better treatment and condition in our work place and to have a genuine protection from our own government not just only a milking cow burdened by so many unnecessary mandatory fees but will not give us good service.
5. Advice for our fellow migrants here in HK
For my Fellow migrant workers, know your rights, fight for it and join in the mass movement to create change to our working condition as Foreign Domestic Workers.No one will speak for us, no one will fight for us, only us.Its not crime to assert our rights and dignity as a workers. Build solidarity to advance our campaign and welfare.