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Covid-19 crisis most unkind to MDWs, says Mission in annual report

16 April 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao 

A worker dismissed last year due to the pandemic 

Migrant domestic workers worked longer hours and became more vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse last year as a result of the pandemic.

This was disclosed by the Mission for Migrant Workers in its Service Report for 2020 which was released Thursday, Apr 15, to coincide with the church-based charity’s 40th founding anniversary.


“MDWs have been made to work longer hours, even during their rest days. And more worrisome, there is a resurgence in violence against women,” said Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, MFMW general manager.

“Though this pandemic has caused unwelcome changes for everyone, we cannot deny the fact that it has been most unkind to MDWs,” said Tellez. “Even before the pandemic, migrants had always been vulnerable due to their visa status.”


According to data collated by MFMW, 17% of its clients reported having been physically abused or assaulted last year, a 2-percentage-point increase from 2019.

Six percent of the clients reported experiencing rape or sexual abuse last year compared with 2% the previous year, said Abdon-Tellez.

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Equally worrying, a whopping 34% of the workers who sought help from Mission reported they were not paid their wages. This was 10 times more than the 3% recorded in 2019, and meant that one out of three MDWs did not receive any salary at all.

The MFMW data also shows 69% of its clients had reported ill-treatment, or almost 7 out of every 10. This was far higher than the 25% posted in 2019.

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“Many migrant workers suffer silently because if they lose their job, they also lose their accommodation here because of the live-in requirement,” Abdon-Tellez said.

“With greater economic instability due to the pandemic, the workers are forced to suffer in deeper depths of despair,” she added.


She said migrant workers bore the burden of stress undoubtedly experienced by their employers, especially the economic difficulty.

Tellez says many MDWs suffered 'in deeper depths of despair' last year

Emphasizing the workers’ vulnerability was the finding that 2% of MDWs reported getting entangled in money laundering while 4% were cyberbullied or harassed online.

“These issues are connected to love scams, wherein vulnerable women migrants are preyed upon by unscrupulous partners. This underscores the loneliness MDWs feel being far away from home and unable to go home for a visit,” said Abdon-Tellez.

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Obviously the most common complaint of the MDWs was working longer hours, with 98% of the clients reporting this kind of abuse, said Abdon-Tellez.

“Related to this, almost 1 in every 2 (or 46%) is made to work on her rest days, while more than 1 in every 3 (or 39%) are made to work on their statutory holidays,” Abdon-Tellez said.

“Of course, this translates to even more overworked MDWs who are also suffering from economic hardships. They are silent and invisible sufferers, and that means more help should be extended to them. If only migrant domestic workers had a live-out option, this could have been avoided,” she said.

On a positive note, the MFMW has helped its clients recover $3,230,624.47 in 2020. This is a 40% increase in claims compared with 2019.

Much of the settlements were the result of labor claims filed by MDWs whose contracts were terminated by their employers because of the economic hardship due to the pandemic.

The Mission also engages in advocacy work for migrant workers (File)

The 2020 Service Report also features the MFMW’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The MFMW referred 873 migrants to shelters, a 24% increase from last year. It also distributed 137,057 pieces of face masks and 6,218 bottles of hand sanitizers, with the help of fellow migrant advocates,” Abdon-Tellez said.

“Many MDWs have trouble procuring their own supply because either they are not included in the household they serve or due the prohibitive prices of these essentials. This underscores the vulnerability of migrants, especially in this pandemic,” she said.

The global crisis brought about the need for new services. In 2020, the MFMW started serving new migrants, or those who just arrived and were quarantined in hotels.

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Being new here, they had no resources yet, and thus had to put up with insufficient, repetitive and unhealthy food served them while under quarantine. Many were also not given basic provisions such as water.

The MFMW provided 3,511 hot meals to them, Abdon-Tellez said.

She said there were also 415 migrants who were given meal coupons good for two people or meal packs that could feed at least five people while staying in boarding houses in-between jobs, or because they were stranded by flight cancellations.

“We also provided other forms of support for those unable to be accommodated in shelters,” Abdon-Tellez recounted.

She said that due to the pandemic, MFMW shifted some of its activities online.

“Some of our 135 Life and Work Skills seminars and training classes were done online to reach more migrants. We also had our Migrant Festival online for International Migrants Day, as a celebration of MFMW's services throughout the year,” Abdon-Tellez said.

The Migrant Festival may be accessed with these links: or

“To cope with the new services arising from the pandemic, the MFMW is calling on kind-hearted individuals, institutions, and corporate donors to support its programs by clicking A $100 donation will feed and shelter a migrant for a day,” Abdon-Tellez said.

To download full version of “2020 Service Report”:

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