Living Italian style: The cost of being an OFW in one of the most beautiful countries in the world


By Henri Abenis – Macahilo

Italy is one of the most frequently visited countries in Europe and a favorite destination of the moneyed society and the arts and culture aficionados. Incidentally, it is also the most sought-after destinations of Filipinos who want to work abroad but find the hot deserts of the Middle East too much for them to handle.

Based on the 2018 data obtained by the Philippine embassy in Rome, there are about 167,000 documented Filipino Overseas Workers (OFWs) across Italy. The Central Bank of the Philippines have recorded a total remittance of US$220,572 in 2018.

Most of the OFWs in Italy work as domestic helpers and caregivers. Some work in hospitality, manufacturing and agricultural sectors. A few of them find jobs in hospitals and homes for the aged.

Although there are many ways to obtain a legitimate employment status in Italy, non-EU nationals, particularly those who are from third world countries like the Philippines, Italy’s policy of direct hiring called “Flussi” applies, an opportunity that opens only every two years.

Qualified professionals who meet government’s qualifications and fill the job vacancies can also obtain employment status via the EU blue card. Italy, as Schengen member-state could award this privilege to qualified skilled workers. A few Filipinos, mostly health professionals, works in Italy via the EU blue card. This work permit is valid for 2 years and is renewable. EU blue card holders are also allowed to work in other EU member states, if they wish to.

Some Filipinos obtain working visas when they are hired as seasonal who work mostly in the agricultural sector, such as vineyards and olive plantations in Italy. Although valid only for six months, this type of visa is renewable and could be converted into a regular working visa if the worker finds job in other sector. Most Filipinos who want to stay in the country permanently, switch to domestic and caregiver jobs so they could have a regular working visa.

All Filipinos working in Italy have an ultimate goal of getting a permanent residence status for self and family members. This is possible for workers who have lived in Italy for more than five years and earning an income of around 5,954 Euros monthly. If they want to bring two family members to live with them in the country, they must earn 12,000 Euros and above annually.

Work hazards and other issues

Sacrificing the comforts of home, away from family care and attention is probably one story every OFWs everywhere in the world, can relate to. Filipinos working and living in Italy are no exception.

But apart from homesickness, OFWs in this part of the globe face other work related hazards and issues.

Since the world financial crunch in 2009, the living condition of Filipinos in Italy had significantly deteriorated, and greatly affected their capacity to send remittances to their families back home. Based on the BSP data, remittances have seen a constant low since 2010 (US$523, 891) until 2018 (US$220,572).

To augment their income, almost all Filipinos working full time have to find part time jobs.

The financial crisis felt all over Europe have also affected the working conditions of all migrant workers in Italy, including OFWs. More Filipinos lost their employment and became undocumented workers, and became vulnerable to labour abuses like being overworked and underpaid.

Current migration laws in Italy (Salvini law) have also restricted migrants from getting work and residence permits. This change in the migration policy has restrained migrant Filipino workers in accessing medical services.

OFWs also face dangers in their line of work, as employers fail to provide safety tools for their workers such as in recent case of an OFW who fell from a four-storey building while cleaning the windows of her employer’s house. According to police report, she was not wearing any safety harness that could have prevented her from falling while doing her dangerous task.

Reports of OFWs in the agricultural sector show that many of them suffer from poor working and living conditions. They were paid below-minimum wages, while they work with hazardous materials without protective gear.

In Italy, as in elsewhere in the world, competition among expatriates is always stiff, due to increasing mobility of EU member state. Many migrant workers from other EU countries are willing to be compensated with below minimum rate. Because of this, some Italian employers would choose to hire these workers above the OFWs regardless of competence and qualifications.

To keep up with competition, OFWs in Italy learn to multitask, taking up more than one job from one employer to increase their take home pay.

For example, a Filipino caregiver living with an Italian household will not only engage in caring of an elderly in the family but will also do the house chores and take care of the needs of the rest of the family members.

This multi-tasking ability of OFWs work to their advantage against their eastern European counterparts as the latter do not like to engage in multitasking.

Protecting OFWs’ rights and welfare

These prevailing circumstances around Filipino migrant workers in Italy is made even worse by the growing dissatisfaction of the services and assistance supposedly extended to them by the Philippine diplomatic mission post in Italy, gave birth to the Overseas Filipino Workers Watch Association in Italy or Overseas Filipino Workers Watch Italy, in Nov 30, 2014 in the city of Modena. It is now the biggest organization of Filipino communities in Italy, with 120 member organizations.

“We created the group because of the growing discontentment of Filipino workers towards the poor services of our diplomatic representatives. Its main objective is to protect and promote the rights and welfare of migrant Filipinos living in Italy,” said Rhoderick Ramos Ople, one of the founding leaders of Overseas Filipino Workers Watch Italy.

“The Philippine Embassy in Rome and the Philippine Consulate Office in Milan are aware about the organization. We have also obtained our local registration in Italy as a non-profit organization whose main activity is to promote the welfare of Filipino migrants,” added Ople.

Since its inception, Ople’s group of active Filipino volunteers has tasked itself to raise the awareness of Filipinos working in Italy on issues that concern them, especially on the country’s policy on labour migration, by organizing forums, training series, and symposia.

Overseas Filipino Workers Watch Italy is also instrumental in putting pressure on the Philippine embassy and consulate which resulted to the elimination of unnecessary and redundant fees of their services, of which they have successfully achieved. The group is also one of the major campaigners of the newly implemented 10-year passport validity.

The group has also instigated a series of dialogue with Philippine embassy officials that resulted in tangible gains for the OFWs.

Labour migration expert Froilan Malit Jr. held a talk on issues of migration facing OFW’s during OFW Watch Italy’s 5th anniversary on November 10, 2019 in Florence, Italy. (Contributed photo)

However, it is not always winning moments for Overseas Filipino Workers Watch Italy, said Ople. For years, the group has been trying to lobby the mobility of pension benefits for all OFWs in Italy.

“One big challenge for the organization is the mobility of the pension. We have commenced this campaign shortly after the foundation of the organization. We would like the Philippine embassy to take action and initiate talks with the Italian about pension mobility,” he told Rights Corridor.

According to Ople, he was told by the Philippine embassy officials that they have initiated the talks on pension mobility with the Italian government but were told that it is not yet ready to make a favourable decision.

Currently, the organization is looking for more venues and opportunities where we can convey the need of having pension mobility for OFWs to concerned Italian government agencies.

Meanwhile, the volunteer group continues to work tirelessly for its members like the paralegal seminar they organized in 2018, to educate its member organizations and raise their awareness on prevalent issues concerning OFWs. Participants were also taught the proper way of handling and dealing with complaints addressed to the embassy, the strategies in reporting complaints and analytical planning in resolving issues.

Ople’s group has also initiated a survey among OFWs across the country, to obtain a concrete general profile of Filipino migrants working and living in Italy.

Overseas Filipino Workers Watch Italy has taken upon itself to protect and promote the rights and welfare of migrant Filipinos living in Italy, and it is what it intend to do for as long as it takes for migrant Filipinos to satisfactorily work and live in the country often nicknamed, Bel Paese (beautiful country).  (Henri Abenis-Macahilo/RC)