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Filippino Workers Organization (FWO)

The vast majority of au pairs in Norway are Filipinos, and nearly all have travelled here privately. That is to say they have found their host families by means of advertisements on the Internet. Encountering trouble, many would have stood alone but for help from the Filipino Workers Organisation (FWO).

(Text: Linn Stalsberg Photo: Werner Anderson)

The Filippino Workers Organisation (FWO) was founded in 2006 by Arlene Klatran, Victor Del Valle and Tor Fredriksen and is based in Oslo.

– It’s clearly a problem that so many au pairs come here via private advertisements on the net. We help out of the au pair and family don’t see eye to eye or possibly find a new family for the au pair when appropriate, says FWO’s cultural manager, Jeaneth Nydal.

– FWO primarily performs the role of mediator, explains Nydal, who originally came to Norway as a nanny for a British diplomat and then later married a Norwegian.

FWO is currently based at premises linked to the Living Word Bible Centre and arranges social occasions so that au pairs from the Philippines can meet and talk together.

Over recent years, thee have been around 3000 au pairs in Norway at any given time, according to the Directorate of Immigration (UDI). The embassy operates with an even higher figure. Whatever the exact figure, the number of Filipinos in Norwegian homes has evenly increased since 2000. Since 2008, about 90% of au pairs in Norway have come from the Philippines. 80% find their way here through private advertisements on the net, the rest through agencies such as Atlantis Utveksling or Energy Au Pair.

Cultural conflicts can often be solved

– Problems between au pairs and host families most often concern cultural conflicts. For this reason we have put together a course with the Philippines Embassy focusing on cultural and moral values in Norway. These courses are based on au pairs’ own experiences, Nydal tells us.

A typical problem examined by the course is that Filipino girls are often very shy and neither dare nor mange to say ’No’. If she meets a host family which then demands far too many hours’ work in relation to what the au pair contract lays down, the basis for dissatisfaction and conflict has been firmly established. FWO then has the task of sorting out such situations and Nydal does not try to hide the fact that this most often occurs in host families where the parents have high status occupations. 

– That’s why our course has a lot to do with building up an au pair’s confidence so that she is able to say no if the family demands extra work from her. She learns how to put forward her views in an appropriate fashion and is made familiar with her rights as embodied in the au pair contract, says  Nydal.

Nydal estimates that around 20% of au pairs from the Philippines have negative experiences in Norway.

If an au pair needs assistance beyond what FWO is able to offer, Nydal puts her in contact with the Philippine Women’s Organisation, Filipinsk Kultur Gruppe or a lawyer. FWO also collaborates with JURK (Legal Aid for Women), exchanging advice and information.

An au pair may also need advice if she has an approach that the host family finds difficult to manage. Sometimes an au pair with bad experiences from a previous family meets a new family with a negative attitude from the very beginning. She may be irritable, and this can erode confidence between the au pair and the family involved.

– Moreover, we sometimes see that there is a kind of competition between the girls about having the best family and this can develop into jealousy and envy. To avoid this, it is important that we do social things together: meet up and talk, says Nydal.

This is difficult, however, for au pairs living outside Oslo. Nydal wants to be able to develop FWO so that she may travel around Norway giving courses to au pairs outside the major cities. This group is clearly the most vulnerable if anything unpleasant were to happen between the au pair and her host family, she says.

At a higher level, Jeaneth Nydal would like to see the Filipino state take greater responsibility for their au pairs abroad, and FWO actively lobbies the Filipino authorities in order to find good solutions. 

Miss Au Pair and the dream of the Good Life

In 2012, FWO created a stir in the media owing to the Miss Au Pair beauty competition. Nydal feels that the critics misunderstood. 

– The event was meant to reach out to au pairs so that we could come into contact with them and give them information about their rights in relation to the au pair scheme, as well as provide inspiration, motivation and social interaction, says Nydal.

The event was also open to host families and many met up to cheer on ’their’ au pair.

– Many of the host families are really nice and very generous. It’s important for us to focus on that too, says Nydal.

Even though Norway insists that the au pair scheme is primarily about cultural exchange, Nydal is open to the fact that, first and foremost, most girls from the Philippine come here to seek a better life. The Philippines is a poor country and many come from particularly difficult living conditions. On the other hand, many of the families who have an au pair should perhaps employ a domestic worker instead, Nydal suggests.  

– It’s clear that many families in Norway need and want help in the house and with the children. Sometimes the au pair scheme provides camouflage for completely different needs. You have to relate to reality. I’d like to see the regulations open up for girls to come here as domestic workers with proper work permits and contracts. It’s not demeaning to help out in  a family. I see the need; there’s too much stress in people’s everyday lives in Norway, says Nydal.

In consideration of the children, she also thinks it better to have the same child-minder over many years than continually having to relate to new au pairs.

Life after being an au pair

Nydal would also like to see it become easier to extend work permits or take up study after he au pair period reaches an end. One is currently allowed to be an au pair for two years; after that one has to leave the country. If one wishes to continue staying here, it can be both complicated and difficult to be granted a study visum or work permit.

One of those who have managed to do so is Lysette Joy Noble (28). She came as an au pair to Snarøya, just outside Oslo, in 2010. She has subsequently been with three families before becoming a student in Norwegian in 2012. In the future she hopes to be able to build upon her bachelor’s degree in mathematics, which she achieved back home, taking a master’s degree and becoming an engineer. It was the bachelor’s degree that made it possible for her to study here, for this is the minimum requirement for obtaining a student visum. 

For Joy, however, the beginning of her time as an au pair was far from all right.

– I didn’t have an easy time with the first family I came to. They had two lovely little children that I soon became very fond of, but it didn’t really work with the host mother, she recalls. 

Joy had to work more than the maximum 30 hours a week that is allowed to au pairs under the law, but the attitude of the host mother was what was worst.

– No consideration was made if I was ill, I had to work anyway, including at weekends.

In the end she wrote a long letter explaining the problems to the host mother. When this did not help, Joy wanted to change family. Joy had come to Norway through the Energy agency but found her new family herself on the Internet. That was fine, she thought.

What was worse was to leave the children. They had been with Joy almost around the clock, slept with her and had her there on holiday. It was those two that made her hesitate for so long before leaving the family.

It is not unusual for Filipino au pairs to have worked in Asia before coming here. Joy had been a domestic worker in Singapore before leaving for Denmark and later Norway. Like many others, she experienced very hard working conditions in Singapore with ten-hour working days. She was quite exhausted when she found out about the au pair scheme on the Internet. She then chose Denmark through an agency.

– I know that there is a focus on the au pair scheme being about cultural exchange but my impression is that host families have au pairs mainly because they need help in their daily lives. That’s fine by me. Families are important to society and it’s good to be able to help them so they don’t wear themselves out completely, Joy thinks.

Her dream is for all au pairs and host families to be able to have a meeting together, with information for both parties, right at the beginning of the collaboration. In this way, both parties would become familiar with everything from tax rules to work regulations, and would be able to agree on the basic premises. 

A good life on Ormøya

Mary Catherine Joy Mendoza, who, by the way, was second in Miss Au Pair 2012, is greatly enjoying her stay with her host family on Ormøya, just outside Oslo. She looks after two boys, aged four and eight, and takes them to playgroup and school respectively. Just like Joy, she came to Norway via Denmark. Her sister is also an au pair, currently working in Spain. 

– My host family is very supportive. They treat me like a daughter. I make food for everyone and we all eat together every day. This Christmas they are paying me so I can have three weeks holiday at home. I hope to be able to stay with then for two years, says Mary.

For Mary, the opportunity for independence was what tempted her to become an au pair. Her dream is to be able to stay in Norway and study, but this will be difficult with only two years formal education from her home country. All the same, she still has a year left overlooking the fjord from Ormøya before she has to decide what she is going to do.

21.12.2012 | Tine Solberg Johansen
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