In the 18 months that Judy was in Bahrain as a domestic worker she had three employers. She left the first, a single man, because she was afraid of his intentions—he wanted a massage every evening. While waiting for a new contract, she and seven other migrant maids were forced to endure despicable conditions while trapped in the agency’s small office kitchen for days. She left the second employer after a week because she was hungry. She ran away from the third employer after 11 months because she was in pain from excessive work. She was unable to lift her right arm very high, it was swollen and she had breathing problems; the employer would not take her to a specialist and insisted she keep working. The doctor who treated her back in Manila said she had musculoskeletal strain.
Judy had gone from Philippines to Bahrain as a domestic worker so she could afford to educate her children and send them to college. They have since dropped out of school because of her losing the work abroad. Before going away, Judy earned money by doing laundry and ironing. Her husband is a construction worker but doesn’t have steady work.
“We had no money for food. The school bills kept coming and there was no money. The electricity and water usually were cut off. We lived in a depressed area, a squatter area. Our house was really small, with one room for living room, dining room and the kitchen.
“I signed a contract in Philippines and my salary was to be 150 dinars a month. But I had to sign another contract in Bahrain and the salary was only 75 dinars. They said it’s because I was a ‘starter’. And they threatened me that I would have to pay the employer 800 dinars, which is equivalent to 80,000 pesos, if I wanted to go home. It was a two-year contract. My first employer took my passport and the last employer sent it to the airport for me to leave. I had three employers. I had my phone but no passport.
“The first employer was good, but then I found out he was single. Then I got scared because he started asking for massages. Every night I had to massage his thighs and legs and then his shoulders. I was four months there. I left because I don’t like doing the massage. One time I when I was cleaning I saw the door open and my employer was sleeping but I see the movie is pornography. I closed the door. He said, ‘Why you close the door?’ ‘Sir, if you want to watch porn, close the door.’ He said he had turned it on accidently. That’s when I thought I should quit.”
Abusive conditions in the agency
“At the agency, they said the employer was disappointed with me from the first day because I’m too old. But they let me stay with him and he didn’t like me. He wanted someone very young. I wanted to go home then but the agent threatened me that I have to pay them back for all the expenses.
“I waited one week for a second employer. In the agency I was trapped in a small kitchen—there were eight of us. We had to pitch in for food. We had to pee in a bag and then put it in the kitchen sink. We couldn’t go out of the kitchen because it’s the office. We had to hold in our bathroom needs until office hours were over. It was open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“The second employers were newlyweds and they seemed nice because they were young. I was to take care of the baby. The employer hadn’t given birth yet so I was asked to stay at the mother’s house. I was a large house with six bathrooms. My problem there was no food. I had only the bread they had with tea or rice soup. I only stayed there one week.
“The third employers had eight children. The oldest were twins. The husband was nice but he was working and always out. The wife was bossy and always angry, pushy. There was always something wrong but I didn’t understand what. She spoke a little English. When I cleaned one specific room and go to another room to clean, the first would get messy because of the children. And the employer would ask why. There was another maid also from the Philippines who cooked and took care of the youngest child. When the employer was there, the other maid helped with the cleaning or dishes but when the employer was gone, she didn’t do anything.
“During my time there, the employer took us with the children to Singapore and Malaysia. I had to carry all the suitcases. After the traveling the pain started. I had chest pains. It was hard to breathe. Sometimes I had major headaches and was nauseous. My nose was bleeding most days. I hurt and I cried.
“There was one time at midnight I woke and started crying because I couldn’t breathe or move my arm. The other maid called the agency. The agency called the employer. I was taken to hospital but I only received dextrose and an injection. They couldn’t examine me because the specialist wasn’t there. The hospital asked me to come back the next day but the employer didn’t want to take me back. She thought it was a one-time thing and that I was lying to go back to the Philippines. She said, ‘All Filipinos are liars, especially you. They just want to go out to a foreign country and marry a foreigner.’ Sometimes the lady employer tortured me to clean the toilet twice. She would use it and not flush and tell me to clean it.
“My arm was swelling up. I said to the man, ‘Sir, see my hand? I want to go back home.’ They said they would take me to the specialist but they never did. Starting then, the woman was mad at me every day, making up excuses to be mad at me. I called the agency. But they said maybe I was faking it just to go home. After I asked to go home, the agency told her not to give me any salary anymore and I would work for four months longer and then I could go back at the end of my contract. But I couldn’t take it anymore.”
I ran away
“I met a Filipina working at Dairy Queen who noticed me a couple times crying and loaned me money to get to the Embassy. I left my things with her one day and ran away from my employer the next day. The employer was told what I had done and came to the Embassy just as I arrived. She dumped my bag on the floor to check if I had stolen anything. She told the Embassy officer she was a good person. But the officer said, ‘If you were a good person, the maids wouldn’t be running away.’”
What should change?
“The main thing I want to change is the employers’ attitudes. She said to me, ‘You’re just a maid, you’re just a helper—that’s all you’ll ever be.’ I would change the hours—If you wake early, then you should sleep early. Working 12 hours is okay, but there should be breaks. A day off is needed.
“I am suing the agency for lying about the salary. I want to speak out in case someone experiences what I did, I can help her, make some tips. I want to expose the agency for their practices. I am also suing the agency for how they treat workers who have to stay there—they can’t eat, can’t go to the bathroom.”