This past weekend I watched a documentary directed by Ted Unarce called Modern Day Slaves. The film centers around the lives of four different Overseas Foreign Workers. These workers are Filipinos who have migrated to countries such as Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and the United States in search for better job opportunities. Many of the OFWs work abroad as teachers, domestic workers, or nurses. Out of all the Filipinos who have migrated, domestic workers were the most likely to suffer from abuse by their employers. The four women featured in the video recount their horrifying experiences as a housekeeper. One woman talks about the poor working conditions she had to endure — crowded living situations, little to no food, and long hours of work meant for more than one person. Another woman faced both physical and mental abuse from her employer, saying she would often get hit and belittled whenever she made a mistake.
These women’s stories of maltreatment abroad is not uncommon for an Overseas Filipino Worker. Some Filipino workers have suddenly disappeared for long periods of time only to be found dead with their bodies badly disfigured. Unfortunately, few domestic workers actually speak out against their abusers because their work is their livelihood that supports their families back home. Migrante International is a small organization that investigates these types of cases and brings awareness to the exploitation of Filipino workers.
The reason why I was drawn to this documentary is because my mother and my aunts and uncles were all Overseas Foreign Workers. Like the women in the documentary, they had to sign multiple documents to get processed by an agency and pay $500 to find a job abroad. Since my mother and my aunts worked as registered nurses in United Arab Emirates, the agency that hired them were more professional and they did not face any poor working conditions. However, my mom has witnessed injustices of OFWs first hand. She has told me stories of how she has helped and housed Filipino women who were trying to escape their violent employers.
Watching Ted Unarce’s documentary on Filipino Migrant workers has reminded me of Professor Block’s lectures on indentured slaves in Colonial America. Both the indentured slaves and the Filipina domestic workers have, in a way, undergone a “social death.” They have been disregarded as humans, lost autonomy over their own bodies and have been disconnected from their families. It is frightening to know that the problems we had hundreds of years ago are still problems that plague us today.