Along the sides of Tram 9 were printed the faces of migrants, and among them was
Lily Angelical, a 67-year-old Filipina who has worked and lived in Switzerland in the last 33 years. Along with other nationals chosen from Italy, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Liberia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Spain, and Cuba, Lily would represent the migrants of Switzerland, their experiences and concerns.
Lily, a native of Iloilo City, was formerly in Spain as a domestic worker, but migrated to Switzerland in 1973 to work in the diplomatic missions located in the capital Bern, among them the Australian and the Ghana Embassy. Although a high school dropout, she has earned enough income abroad to be able to send street kids in Iloilo to school, fund school libraries in Capiz, and sponsor the education of selected children in Sienna College.
Lily was also a delegate representing migrant workers in women conferences abroad and had told her advocacy for better treatment for migrant workers in European newspapers. In 2000, she received the Presidential Banaag Award, conferred on Filipino individuals or associations for their contributions which have significantly benefited a sector or community in the Philippines, or advanced the cause of overseas Filipino communities.
She has been on the board of the council of the Roman Catholic English-speaking community in Bern in the last 25 years.
Lily now chairs the Samahang Pilipina-Bern, a Filipina organization founded in 1985 which has chapters now in five Swiss cantons.
Foreign migrants workers face long hours of hard and tedious work, sometimes inadequate pay and sometimes abuse and discrimination, says Lily. “The situation of migrant domestic workers is worse. Their salaries are not standardized, and their employers treat them differently,” she says, adding that she also experienced not being given free days or an annual work leave.
She says embassy workers are a special concern because of abuse of the so-called “diplomatic immunity” by some embassies (specially Third World) which do not follow labor laws in Switzerland and do not give out information or cooperate with local agencies or labor unions.
But Lily says domestic workers are not just domestic helpers “Domestic work should be recognized as regular work, as dignified and as important as any profession.”
NGOs say that advocacy for migrant workers is important in Switzerland, where up to a fifth of the labor force are migrants working in private homes, embassies and diplomatic missions, offices, restaurants, in cleaning and maintenance work or as seasonal manual labor.
Lily is also representative of migrant workers in another way. Despite working abroad in the last 34 years, Lily is not yet a Swiss citizen, owing to the difficulty as an embassy worker who is only entitled to a “legitimation card” which allows her to stay for only one year, renewable as long as the embassy certifies her employment. As such, she does not have voting rights or receive old-age pension.
She is therefore a good profile of the Filipino domestic worker abroad — hardworking and with deep religious faith, a seemingly inexhaustible provider for her family back home, a generous patron for community projects in the home country, but also victim of abuse and engaged in a continuing struggle for better conditions.
According to Anny Misa-Hefti, a private psychologist working in the board of Samahang Pilipina, the Filipina migrant worker is one of a kind.
In her paper “Migrant Issues in Switzerland,” Misa-Hefti says the profile of a Filipina migrant in Switzerland is “multi-faceted.”
“She is a wife and mother who juggles her identity between seriousness in her Swiss household and the gaiety and spontaneity she expresses among her Filipina circle. She can also be a nurse who makes her elderly patients feel they are cared by their own daughters, and more,” said the psychologist.
A Filipina domestic worker in an embassy is also a wonder because she needs to be efficient “in many levels — as a cook, a buddy to the children, a confidant to the Lady of the house, and a loyal housekeeper to the Ambassador.”
Misa-Hefti concludes in her paper: “I doff my hat to the Filipina migrants. They are one of a kind.”