The Fillipino Embassy in Oslo
At the Philippines Embassy in Oslo, contact with fellow countrymen and –women working in Norway as au pairs is a large part of daily life.
– Millions of Filipinos have jobs as domestic workers in other countries, so for us at the embassies a large part of our operations concerns looking after their interests and well-being. And that’s the case here in Norway too, says Second Secretary to the Embassy, Lenna Eilleen C. de Dios-Sison.
For a period of 7 to 8 years, the Philippines put a stop to their citizens travelling to Europe as au pairs. There was uncertainty as to whether au pairs were taken sufficiently good care of through the au pair scheme, not least where insurance was concerned in the event of illness or not being able to work for other reasons. Requirements in the host countries were then introduced before the Philippines authorities again started issuing visa to au pairs a couple of years ago, for a few countries only. Currently this applies to Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands and Norway.
– There are around 4–5000 Filipino au pairs in Norway at any given time and we use a lot of our work-time upon them. This is not least because they must come here to renew their passports or other documents, or to get help if they are going to sell a house or manage something else back home, says de Dios-Sison.
First Secretary to the Embassy, Patrick Hilado, says they are also contacted by a handful of au pairs who have met problems in Norway. The commonest problem is that they work far too many hours a week.
– In addition we meet a few isolated instances where they have serious trouble with the family. This may concern abuse, not getting paid the money they are owed, misunderstandings with the family regarding other matters or not understanding their contract or the rules concerning tax. The average au pair has difficulties understanding the Norwegian system, which is not altogether clear around the au pair scheme, not least where tax is concerned. Who pays it? Sometimes it’s down to the host family, sometimes to the au pair, says Hilado.
The worst case the embassy has come across is a rape case, that is till going through the justice system. A concerned au pair notified the embassy by e-mail about a friend. The police were involved, the au pair ended up at the Crisis Centre and, in due course, received legal assistance from a lawyer.
– We collaborate with JURK, among others, and often act as a bridge between an au pair and the authorities. In many cases au pairs do not know where to turn when they need help and it becomes our role to give them guidance, Hilado tells us.
He is pleased that the Au Pair Center now provides a place where all the necessary resources and information can be gathered together. Before au pairs travel from the Philippines, they have to complete a course to learn about the scheme. It is then a great advantage to be able to refer to a centre which they can contact if they need help or wonder about anything while they are in Norway.
Where the au pair scheme is concerned, the diplomats answer, well, diplomatically:
– Our view is that we know there is an au pair system in use. Our job is to protect our citizens who make use of it. We do not advertise it, but support those who choose it. What we are most satisfied with is that the authorities and organisations continue to work with the regulations surrounding the scheme, and that there is an ongoing dialogue about how it can be improved, says Hilado.
As long as the au pair scheme is fair and transparent, he thinks that it is fine although it is debatable whether the cultural exchange element actually functions as intended. Hilado seeks more contact with host families in the future, so that the embassy can become more familiar with the scheme from their point of view and include them in the ongoing dialogue.
– It is clear that the au pair scheme operates in a grey area. We want a system that protects our citizens who are here as au pairs but actually work as domestic workers. We must ensure that their rights are taken care of, says de Dios-Sison.
She says that people clearly have different motives when leaving the Philippines as an au pair.
Most au pairs from the Philippines do not use agencies but find host families via the Internet or through family and friends that have already travelled abroad. The embassy understands this for the agencies in the Philippines are not always like those such as we know them in Norway.
– There are agencies in the Philippines but most of them are of the type that promise all kinds of different things and take a great deal of money for services that au pairs could quite easily organise themselves, says Hilado.
This summer, coming to Norway as an au pair was forbidden to those who have children in the home country. The embassy is not solely pleased about this decision. Part of the reason lies in the Filipino culture where a child will always be looked after the extended family; many parents know that their child will be properly cared for even though they themselves are working abroad.
– Au pairs not being allowed to have children is not a requirement from our side, but an initiative that came from Norway, says Hilado.
Even though the embassy meets many having problems, they also meet many happy au pairs who have a fantastic time with their host family. Many want to stay in Norway when their au pair period is over and seek advice as to how this can be achieved.
– Many of them are trained nurses or care assistants and travel home in order to aply for a normal work permit. Because many have learnt the language while they have been here, and get their training approved, this is possible. Some wish to study, but then they have to have a Bachelor’s degree from back home. Those who don’t, however, can apply for Bible studies, says Hilado.
There are of course a few who find love here and get married.
The Philippines recently closed their embassies in Finland and Sweden. Thus the embassy in Norway is responsible for au pairs in those countries too and must cope with a great deal of travel.