Abuse and assault difficult to uncover
In 2010 Rodolfo L. Javier jr. experienced being hit by his Norwegian host father. The case was reported to police but dropped owing to lack of evidence.
Today, Javier is the president of the Filipino Workers Organisation and studying Norwegian while hoping for an extension to his residence permit. After his traumatic experience at the hands of his first host family in Norway, he found a new good family before going to a bible school.
This is how it started: Javier’s girlfriend was working in Denmark. When her au pair period was over, he took over her host family. After that, he travelled to Norway, like many other au pairs, and found a new host family just outside Oslo through an acquaintance. The family had two boys and wanted a male au pair.
– It was fine to start with. The family seemed happy with my work and were very pleasant. But after a while, the host father began asking me to do more than just housework. Things like gardening or painting the house or the boat. I also did some work up on the roof with only a rope tied round my waist for safety, and the neighbours reacted. All the same, the host father insisted that I should complete the task, Javier recalls.
The host father’s attitude also changed: He began shouting and pushing and no longer asked nicely when he wanted things done. Enough’s enough, Javier thought, deciding that he wanted to leave and attend a bible school instead. He told his plans to the host father, who misunderstood, thinking that he would have to pay for the bible school. There was a row, which ended with the host father becoming furious, shouting abuse and hitting out.
– I had the number to the police handy for I feared something like this might happen. They told me to go to casualty but that they couldn’t pursue the case owing to the lack of witnesses and evidence, Javier says. The host mother did not think her husband could do such a thing and denied it. Javier had sent many an SMS to friends saying what was going on in the family, but this was not enough for the police. Javier was himself assisted in putting forward his case by the law students at JURK.
He is unaware as to whether this family now has a new au pair.
Javier says that his case proves how living at one’s workplace can make a person vulnerable. For of course there are never any witnesses present when any abuses or rough treatment take place. At the same time, an au pair is often quite alone without his or her own family to support them. And families back at home in the Philippines never get to hear anything, not even Javier’s family. He did not want to worry them any more than they do already.
– Norway is a just country so it is difficult for me not to be believed, he says.
Javier is very concerned for the welfare of au pairs in Norway and says that some are extremely vulnerable, especially those that live in the country, without access to the internet and only limited access to the telephone. He knows of a number of these cases.
– I know about au pairs who don’t have their own rooms and other who are expected to work around the clock. I’ve got lawyers for some of them and then the police take notification of concern seriously, he says.
Working as an au pair can be fantastic in the right family, says Javier, who got on really well with his new family and with whom he stayed until he began his bible studies. But if you end up in the wrong family, it can easily become the worst two years of your life, he says.
– The au pair system is OK but there are holes in it. The 30-hour week for example. How can this be followed up in practice? It’s quite common for a family, which you’re also supposed to be a part of, to need you both in the morning and the afternoon. That’s a lot of hours altogether. And then suddenly they have to go out for a meeting in the evening. What do you do then? What’s helping the family and what is actually work-time? And where do you go for advice if the family’s forever complaining that the housework isn’t good enough, even if they sometimes expect you to do it at the same time as you are minding the children, Javier asks.
Javier proposes that au pairs and host families are invited to attend discussion meetings twice a year by the authorities. He also notes the lack of meeting places for au pairs. No studies have so far been undertaken to uncover how many au pairs have negative experiences, and Javier hopes this can happen soon.
– I don’t think there are very many with big problems, but there are some who don’t understand their contracts and agreements. Host families must also understand that nobody does everything perfectly every day and that it must be possible to make mistakes without being barked at, Javier says.
Like many other Filipinos, Javier wishes it were possible to get residence permits for work – as domestic workers, child-minders or mechanics, for example. In the long term he would like to see a change in the rules for work-related immigration to make this possible, but understands that this is a weighty process.
Many Filipinos need to, and are used to, working abroad. Javier’s brother is also in Norway as a Norwegian student, while his mother and sister work in the USA.
– I don’t think au pairs earn very much. 5000 kroner minus tax is not very much to live on for a month. It’s a dilemma. You’re involved in cultural exchange but at the same time supposed to work, says Javier, wiser from his own experience and eager to improve the conditions for others.