The truth behind our workers’ migration

Published by rudy Date posted on May 28, 2011

One of the biggest lies we have been made to believe is that many of our workers leave because of acute unemployment. We take the statement that about 11.3 million of our people are out of work as logically correct. Added is the fact that as of January 2011, close to 19.4 percent of our labor force is underemployed, earning below what they are supposed to earn by their skill and qualifications, are engaged in intermittent work (mostly self-employed) which is short of the current minimum wage of P404 (now P426 daily), for an eight-hour work.

This reasoning persists because there has been no previous study why the estimated 11 million Filipinos opted to leave with many daring to gamble the unity of their family just to eke out a living abroad. But a random survey would startlingly reveal that close to 85 to 95 percent of those who left were in fact “not seeking employment”, but are “seeking for better employment” and “security of employment” abroad. For a labor analyst not to make a qualification on this could wrongly place the Philippines to the level of those countries in Central Africa, like Chad, Niger, Mali, Somalia and Sudan where migration to Europe for employment is a matter of survival.

Hence, analyzing why many of our workers leave would readily provide an answer that our problem is not unemployment, but security of tenure. We are not saying that unemployment is not a problem, but the kind of employment we propagated here has given rise to a more serious problem of job security and stagnating wage caused by the lack of opportunity to advance with a corresponding increase in income. The proliferation of labor-only contracting have instilled into the minds of those lucky enough to be employed here a painful truth. That truth is that there exists a barrier that prevents them from being promoted and correspondingly obtain increases by the merit of their length of service, experience and skill for the job and loyalty. It is this practice of leasing out of human services that has deprived many members of our precious labor force the incentive to hold on or to remain loyal to their job.

Admittedly, the minimum wage is fairly sufficient for an unmarried wage earner and without any dependent for support. In fact, the amount received by ordinary unskilled and semi-skilled workers is somewhat high if one would use as basis the low-value products manufactured by companies where they are mostly employed. Nonetheless, even if we say that our workers in that category are overpaid, the problem is not solved by their being employed. As contractual workers, of which many now belong, there is always in them the anxiety that before six months they could lose their jobs, with a grim prospect of not being rehired. That anxiety becomes most visible and apparent once they start to have a family and children to attend to. Indeed they constantly face the question: How long would they be able to hold on to their job?

The fear of economic dislocation matters most to many of them. While they know the scheme is to precisely prevent them from becoming regular employees, they could not however defer the needs of their families as they wait for the renewal of their contract. It is their family that suffers while in the meantime the scheme is being applied to them. If ever their contract is renewed, they will have to wait for a new job assignment for about one to two months.

The situation is worse for our educated white collar and technical workers. Even if many are receiving slightly above the minimum, that does not mean anything if they are entrapped into that vicious system of labor-only contracting. Aside from the absence of security of tenure, labor-only contractors peg to the lowest level their wage rate to maximize their profits. It is the intermittent employment that compels a great number of them to scout for greener pastures abroad. They know that for the entire years they would work as leased-out workers here they would only be receiving slightly above the minimum, if fortunate enough to be employed by a “fair-dealing” labor-only contractor. As contractual employees wanting to give up their employment here, they are willing to pay as much as from P90 thousand to P150 thousand for their placement fee.

As many of them would rightly surmise, two to three years of contractual service abroad would be equivalent to eight to ten years of continuous work here. If they are fortunate enough to work for a continuous service of 10 to 15 years, even if on a contractual basis, they could retire as though they worked here for 25 to 30 years with extra savings to allow them to send their children to private colleges and universities; own a house and lot which at times are even luxurious than that owned by upper middle class families; buy a car and other amenities they could not otherwise afford had they remained here. Most importantly, many of them open up their own businesses to contribute in their own way in helping our country.

What can be gleaned from this deplorable dilemma that confronts our workers, especially the technical and white collar workers, is they merely take their local experience as jumping board to qualify for employment abroad. Here, despite their educational attainment, qualification, skill and experience their status has been reduced to that of modern-day slaves paid an amount just enough to allow them to report for work. Their greatest fear is their serviceability as contractual workers. Many realize that at the age of 35 somehow they will have to go, and at 40 they resign themselves to the truth that no labor-only contractor will hire them. The reason is they are already considered too slow to cope up with the pace of work. Today, because of stiff competition, employer-beneficiaries demand much from their leased-out workers, like multi-tasking, and labor-only contractors willingly do that to secure that precious service contract in the supply of manpower. –Rod Kapunan, Manila Standard Today

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