Ministries split over plan on Filipino babysitters
By Lee Hyo-sik
Many Korean women quit their jobs after giving birth in the face of a range of difficulties in raising children while working at the same time. A shortage of decent childcare facilities, among other factors, makes working moms refrain from having more babies or end up staying home to raise their children.
To boost the nation’s falling birthrates and encourage more women to participate in economic activities, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance is considering bringing Filipino women into the country to employ them as babysitters.
Many working mothers seem to welcome the government’s latest move, saying it will help them find suitable babysitters at lower costs.
Lukewarm attitude from other ministries
However, the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and the Ministry of Justice have shown a lukewarm response, arguing there are already plenty of foreign and Korean women willing to work as babysitters.
The labor ministry said if the country brings in Filipinos, it will take away jobs from those employed in childcare. To allow Filipinos to work as babysitters, the government will issue them new types of visas, according to officials from the ministry.
The finance ministry said Tuesday that it has begun looking into the issue. “We have just started studying the introduction of babysitters from the Philippines as part of efforts to raise Korea’s record-low birthrate and prompt more married women to take part in economic activities,” said Kim Jae-hwan, director of the ministry’s competitiveness strategy division. “Hong Kong and Singapore have invited hundreds of thousands of women from the Philippines and allow them to care for babies of their citizens. This has helped women there keep their jobs while raising young children.”
About 300,000 Filipino women currently reside in Hong Kong working as babysitters. They are known to receive around $500 a month and are given a day off each week.
“Filipino babysitters are credited for helping women in the two city states continue to work after giving birth. But in Korea, many married women were forced to make a choice between work and childcare, due to a lack of decent and affordable facilities,” the director said. “If the government provides a pool of decent babysitters from overseas, this could encourage more Korean women to continue their professional careers.”
In 2011, only 53.7 percent of women here aged between 30 and 39 were found to be employed, substantially lower than 89.8 percent for men in the same age bracket. Currently, about 200,000 middle-aged Koreans and ethnic Koreans from mainland China with H-2 visas are estimated to work as babysitters. Families raising one child pay Korean babysitters up to 2 million won per month and Chinese childminders nearly 1.5 million won, putting a heavy financial burden on working mothers.
“I pay my Korean babysitter 1.5 million won a month for looking after my 4-year-old daughter, accounting for about half of my monthly salary. If she lived with us, I would have to pay more,” said Kim Hye-na, a 33-year-old working mother in Seoul. “If Filipino women come here and work as babysitters, it would certainly bring down the childcare costs. They could also help my daughter learn English. The plan seems to be a good idea.”
Despite this, the labor ministry expressed concerns, claiming that it will not likely help raise the country’s birthrate nor encourage more women to find jobs.
“There are plenty of people who are already working as babysitters or willing to become one,” said Yoon Young-soon, director of the ministry’s foreign workforce policy division. “Tens of thousands of ethnic Korean women from China are caring for babies of working families. On top of that, a growing number of middle-aged Korean women are looking to become babysitters amid the tightening labor market conditions.”
It won’t help ease working families’ childcare burden, she said, arguing wages will not drop much from the current levels even after an influx of babysitters from the Philippines.
“The measure will only backfire as it would take away jobs from Koreans and ethnic Chinese babysitters. It could also aggravate the already-dire illegal alien problem” the director said. “If the government wants to raise birthrates and help Korean women keep working, it should make more efforts to build more decent and affordable childcare facilities and make workplaces more friendly for working mothers.”
The justice ministry said it has not yet seriously looked into the issue, only saying it will make its position public after due consideration.