PHILIPSBURG–Working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week for US $400 per month; restricted from going out unless their employer is accompanying them, and receiving strict instructions that they should not engage in conversations with persons outside of their boss’ household are amongst the horrifying tales three Filipino women said they experienced at the hands of two Front Street merchants who hired them to cook and clean at their private residence in St. Johns Estate.
The three women – ages 26, 31 and 32 – were rescued by a representative of United Filipinos of St. Maarten two weeks ago and are now fighting to receive their unpaid salaries from their employers before they go back to their native country.
In an invited comment, the two employers, businessmen Haresh Sachdev and Navin Rupani, both denied the allegations and said the accusations were “all lies” and “false.”
A representative of United Filipinos of St. Maarten who is currently caring for the women related the story of the trio in an interview with The Daily Herald.
The representative said the women had been recruited in the Philippines by a relative of their employers. The first woman was hired as a cook three years ago.
That woman began her workday as early as 6:00am each day to cook, serve and clean up after 14 persons who lived at the residence: her employer, his family and the workers of the Front Street establishments. She also cleaned, washed the clothing of the 14 persons and looked after the children in the home. She worked seven days a week, had no day off and sometimes had no time to rest during the workday, as the workload was excessive. Her days ended around 10:00pm, sometimes later.
She was promised a salary of US $750 per month and signed a contract to this effect, but when she arrived she received only $400 a month. One year ago, her salary was increased to $450 per month. Out of fear, the woman never questioned the low salary she was receiving for two years, until she was joined by the two other women from the Philippines who were hired a year ago to work as cleaners at the same residence – the home of one of the two employers. One of the new workers did additional chores at the home of the second employer.
One of the women, who arrived a year ago, was more vocal than her predecessor and questioned the discrepancy in her salary. She was told that money was being deducted to “pay back” the employer for expenses such as filing for her employment permit. All three workers told United Filipinos of St. Maarten that although they were told they had employment permits, they never received a copy. Their passports were originally taken from them, but were later returned as they had to use them to identify themselves when sending money to support their families back home.
The women would occasionally ask to go out, but they were told the home had rules and one of the rules was that they go out only in the company of their employer. One of the women told the Filipino Community group she had been denied a chance to go to church when she asked. They were all told they should not speak to persons outside the household, particularly persons of the Filipino community in St. Maarten.
After a long day’s work, two of the women slept on a bed in the room of the children of one of the employers, while the third had a room at her employer’s residence which is at another location.
According to the United Filipinos of St. Maarten representative, the three women ended up in the group’s care after the employers went on vacation to India in July leaving two of the three women behind with their workers. The third woman, the cook, was taken to India, as she had to care for the children and do other chores during the trip.
One of the two women who were left behind, befriended a Filipino shopper when she was taken to a local supermarket to shop and related her story. She told the woman she was unhappy with being exploited and she wanted to leave. The shopper contacted United Filipinos of St. Maarten. This was on July 14. On July 17, the United Filipinos of St. Maarten representative visited the police station for advice on how to deal with the situation. She was told that the women had to visit the station to file a report.
“I told them that the women are not allowed leave the house and I offered to write a letter based on what I was told,” the representative said. This letter was delivered to the police station in Cole Bay on July 20. On the same date, detectives visited the women at the home of their employer to enquire if they were okay. “During the visit the women were scared, and they were worried that the neighbours would see police at the house and they would get in trouble.”
When the employers returned from vacation on July 21 and learnt of the matter, the vocal Filipino worker was told to leave the house immediately. “They started yelling and told her, ‘Get out of my house. I don’t want to see your face here again.’”
When the United Filipinos of St. Maarten representative went to pick up the crying woman, the other two workers took the opportunity to flee as well.
The three women filed a complaint at the police station on July 25. Although they were promised that the Dutch report would be translated into English and they would receive a copy, they have not received a copy to date.
Based on advice received, the women also went to the Department of Labour to file a complaint, but they were told they needed proof that they were being paid $400 per month. It should be noted that the women were paid cash and never received any pay slips, which is mandatory under the country’s labour regulations. Copies of their labour agreement and some money-transfer receipts showing the amount of funds the women sent back to support their families in the Philippines were the only proof they had, and these were provided.
On July 26, the matter was brought to the attention of the Prosecutor, who indicated that he is aware of the matter and promised to contact the detectives working on the case again. The women made clear that they wanted to return home, providing that they are paid what they are due from their employer – the amount withheld from their salaries as well as the overtime pay for working 16-hour workdays and seven days a week, etc.
Three days after visiting the Prosecutor’s Office, detectives visited the residence where the women are staying and demanded that they sign a letter to receive a one-way ticket back to the Philippines.
“He [the detective – Ed.] was slamming his hands on the table and forcing them to sign the letter,” this newspaper was told. The women refused to sign without receiving their unpaid salaries.
“The press release from the Prosecutor’s Office saying that the women agreed to leave the country and later withdrew is entirely false. There was no offer from the employer and they did not withdraw either. The detective was forcing them to sign a paper/letter saying that [the ticket – Ed.] is the full and final settlement,” this newspaper was told.
Also, although the ticket was issued on July 26, it was presented to the women on Monday, July 30, at 3:00pm, a day before the women were told they had to leave the country,
United Filipinos of St. Maarten believed the women were not getting justice anywhere and decided to secure the services of an attorney on the matter. The attorney has since sent the employers a letter outlining what the women are owed. The employers have until Thursday, August 9, to finalise the financial settlement for the women. “Wherever they go, it’s like they are pushed in a corner. The women just want to be paid what’s due to them. Even now they are afraid of their former employers.”
United Filipinos of St. Maarten said severe emotional harm was inflicted on the women over the time they were exploited by their employers. The group believes that in this day and age workers should be treated fairly and according to the laws of the country, not exploited or treated as slaves. “For all we know, there could be more cases like this happening right here in St. Maarten. And this should not be happening.”
In the meantime, one of the employers, Sachdev, maintains that the three women are not telling the truth.
“All I can say is that this is all lies and that all three had their freedom to go out as they pleased and they each always had keys to the house at all times and the Dutch police has proof of that. They did work five days a week for eight hours a day and it is a baseless accusation about working over hours, as they knew and we know the law.
“Each had cell phones and access to Internet and were going out every week, so no, they were not locked up and forbidden to leave the house or speak to anyone,” Sachdev said.
When asked for his side of the story, Rupani said: “It stands the same as Mr. Sachdev. These are all false accusations.”
Bron: Daily Herald