Young Pinoy workers vote with their feet

LIPA CITY—Never mind if undergraduates or fresh graduates are young and inexperienced: In the sea of some 3,500 Filipino workers who flooded a leading mall’s branch here, they’re taking chances for work overseas.

The young workers at recent job fairs here (and in many other job fairs across the country) queuing for overseas work even disregarded militant protests that mark usual Labor Day affairs. Though the resumes that these workers, in their early 20s, submitted to overseas recruiters may be signs of protest that work tenure, work conditions and higher incomes in the Philippines are hard to come by.

Benson Ariate, 21, wants to work for an electronics company in Qatar. This out-of-school youth dreams of owning an electronic shop someday, and Ariate thinks landing a high-paying job overseas would be the key.

Qatari companies offer high salaries, Ariate says. “I’m no longer afraid to go out of the country.”

Family is also the reason why 20-year-old fresh graduate Beverly Maldonado applied for a data encoder job in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Maldonado is “willing to risk working overseas”.  “I am not scared going abroad even if I’m young, I want to help my family financially and that’s why I want to go overseas.”

These responses shouldn’t surprise Batangueños, with the province being one of the leading sources of overseas workers and permanent settlers abroad, says national data.

But this should surprise national labor officials, especially since data from three types of surveys —the Census of the Population, the annual Survey on Overseas Filipinos, and the quarterly Labor Force Survey— show that most overseas workers are aged 25-to-29 years old, and the median age is 32 years old.

It is not that local job opportunities aren’t available for these young Filipino workers, like the vacancies Japanese printing company Epson Precision Philippines is offering given their investment of a new printer manufacturing plant at the LiMa Technology Center. Even the hosts of the Labor Day job fair, SM Lipa, are offering job opportunities: SM Lipa’s department store and supermarket are scouting for workers.

Call centers are also looking for workers especially since Lipa City is being groomed as among ten Philippine cities where call centers seek expansion outside of Metro Manila.

But overseas work is “a rare opportunity” that young workers like Deith Samonte, 20, won’t pass up.

“I want to challenge myself in everything I do. I want to be independent and I want to help my family in their basic needs.” said Samonte, who’s applying for a restaurant manager’s job in the UAE.

At least 3,500 jobseekers have flooded the halls of the SM City Lipa Event Center. The mall doors opened at about 10 a.m., to allow applicants
to access 90 hiring companies for local and overseas jobs. The second floor’s hallway was filled by applicants waiting in line for their interviews.

Not surprisingly, Labor Day job fairs were  greeted with street protests by militant groups, which clamored for a P125 across-the-board wage hike. The Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board gave the Calabarzon region a P2 to P90 increase for workers there.

With their placards and streamers in tow, 35 activists from BLAST and the left-leaning group Anak Pawis, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and Halagi ng Batangenyong Anakdagat  marched in the middle of the heat, across the  streets of De La Salle Lipa to the public market, to show disgust over “unfair labor practices” such as labor contractualization.

BLAST spokesperson Pepito Castillo said some workers “are now suffering to poverty because of low salaries they receive,” and that a P310 daily minimum wage in the Philippines’s  second richest region “has little value” given the “rising prices of commodities”.

BLAST said that while DOLE-attached agency National Wages Productivity Commission (NWPC) said that at least P770 daily wage is needed to raise a family of six, minimum wage earners in Batangas only earn P310. This excludes the lower wage earned by workers in the garments industry, agricultural and contractual workers in the province.

“It seems that the workers have looked over-aged to the eyes of the employers because they are being offered contractual jobs,”  Castillo said.

While there are foreign investments here in the Batangas Local Growth Corridor (an economic trail of industries, local enterprises and tourist destinations that span three cities and five municipalities in eastern Batangas), militant groups claimed jobs here are insecure.

BLAST claimed that Epson Precision Philippines, Inc. terminated thousands of regular workers through early retirement and voluntary separation pay packages, and were replaced with contractual workers and agency-hired employees. Even Japanese firms Mitsuba and Ibiden Philippines hired fewer numbers of regular workers (only 700 regular workers, BLAST claims) but has 3,500 other workers as contractual and agency-hired workers.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that when the prices of commodities continue to increase the wage of the workers will also increase right away. There are still many other factors to consider before increasing wages,” DOLE Batangas Provincial Director Emma Tan said, adding that contractual and the regular workers also shared almost same benefits in their works including overtime pay.

But for some fresh graduates, the ticket for an overseas job is a passport for higher incomes, leading to future savings. “I’m already a grown-up man,” Ariate said. “I want to have my own money because it’s difficult to depend on parents.”
This story is a product of a collaboration by The Filipino Connection and the  Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Journalism Consortium (www.ofwjournalism.net), a ten-year-old nonprofit media service writing stories on overseas Filipinos for a global Filipino audience.

About Guada Lynne Mae Cosio

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