ATTY. Nida Romulo: The New Labour Attache
By Beatrice Paez
A labour attache for 8 years in Hong Kong, a labour officer in Manila for 18 years, a mediator and conciliator
Two months into her stint as the new labour attaché, the real work for Atty. Nida Romulo has barely begun. She takes the reins from Atty. Francisco Luna, and will oversee the labour concerns of Filipino nationals working across Canada, in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island.
Romulo paid her dues before climbing the ranks, and landing her post in Canada, where Filipinos continue to be the leading source of foreign workers, according to government statistics. She first worked as a labour regulation officer in Manila for 18 years, before graduating to become a mediator and conciliator, and being posted in Hong Kong as a labour attaché for eight years.
The Hong Kong experience relied heavily on her work as a mediator. The port city’s labour office draws in a lot of foot traffic, averaging about 20-30 people armed with questions and concerns, double the amount of what she has seen so far in Toronto. The accessibility of the Hong Kong office compared to its Canadian branch, she explains, accounts for the difference in volume.
The other explanation, she cites, is that most caregivers arrive in Hong Kong through third party agencies that pair them with employers. She has witnessed many cases where contracts are not honoured or situations of abuse, and part of her responsibility was to hear both sides and to hold the agency accountable.
Hong Kong employers have a notorious reputation for their overt hostility towards Filipino domestic workers. And though there have been Canadian employers cited for maltreatment, Romulo says the current watch list is not as lengthy.
Unable to divulge the precise details, she reveals there are currently three employers flagged for violations, however, none are tied to the live-in caregiver program. Her goal, she explains is not to investigate these claims, but rather to connect them with the appropriate agencies and to follow-up on any progress made.
Romulo doesn’t foresee the same volume of cases involving abuse coming her way, and claims that it has to do with the satellite of community support groups scattered across the city and the fact that they have more resources provided by the Canadian government to turn to for guidance.
Community workers are more readily accessible for support, she explains, particularly when it applies to those working outside of the GTA. Most of the inquiries that pass through are often sent via email, she says she receives an average of about 30 per day, mainly related to its administrative functions.
Fresh from her mandatory rotation in Manila, Romulo says she had a brief exchange that lasted about 15 minutes with her predecessor before he left. The transition, she admits, usually is better orchestrated, but the strike led by Canada’s foreign service workers delayed her arrival. The processing of her visa took longer than anticipated, and if the option were available, ideally she wanted to spend about a week or two working alongside Luna.
The extent of her knowledge and perception of Canada is shaped by her encounters with live-in caregivers, who view the country as the plum destination for work, because it holds the promise of permanent residency and social mobility. She says she would organize teleconferences with Luna for interested caregivers to help them get the information they needed to apply to Canada’s LCP.
Though her exposure to Canada is limited, having spent the duration of her career in Manila and Hong Kong, she expresses that the ability to be resourceful will help her gain a firm grip on her new portfolio. This has meant consulting with her counterpart in Vancouver and conducting research into Canada’s labour policies for temporary foreign workers.
At the moment, she is focused on making herself available to the Filipino community and determining their most pressing needs.
To date, she has held information sessions for newcomers and met with caregivers, for the purpose of explaining the consular services provided by her office.