Monday, August 9, 2010

Welcome To The Jungle

Although the Philippines is certainly not lacking for laws to protect employees from abusive working conditions, they are not usually not enforced. According to the announcement "DOLE to inspect, correct firms violating minimum wage, other labor standards",  a government study showed that over half  the businesses inspected by the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment were in violation of national  labor standards.

From my observation the burden of worker exploitation falls most heavily on blue collar and manual laborers (surprise, surprise). These workers often have to put up with job conditions that would befit the pyramid slaves in ancient Egypt.  I have seen such counter-productive and inhumane practices as delivery people carrying loads on their backs instead of being provided with  inexpensive hand trucks.  Tree-trimmers are often forced to climb trees to cut branches instead of being furnished with pruners or even ladders. Instead of being run by electric motors, cables holding scaffolds carrying high rise building window washers are often manually operated by workers on the ground who pull and release the ropes to raise and lower the platform.  Construction workers usually work without hard hats and sturdy shoes (despite being admonished to do so by signs posted at building sites).  Employees  who are exposed to fumes, dust and particulates, use handkerchiefs instead of filtration masks, that is if they use any protection at all.

As is the case with many countries, the excuse that the Philippines is an underdeveloped / third world / developing (take your pick of adjectives) nation falls flat.  While these workers toil in difficult and backward circumstances, their managers often enjoy state of the art offices and conveniences.  Culturally, in many ways the Philippines is still  a feudal society and employers often regard their employees as little more than serfs. The resources are available to improve the lot of the workers, but most employers are too shortsighted to realize that by spending money by  improving working conditions, this will lead to higher production.  There are labor organizations, but with some exceptions such as  PISTON, an aggressive union which represents the jeepney drivers, most of them do a piss-poor job in protecting their members.

But from a larger perspective, mistreatment of workers here is rooted in the dark side of capitalism:  supply and demand of human labor.  Due to overpopulation in the Philippines, especially in Metro-Manila, the job market has a glut of worker, which of course depresses wages for everyone and which leaves would-be employees scrambling for jobs, including positions with substandard working environments. (To be fair, in this regard, the Philippines is not alone.  In any country where this set of conditions prevails, workers almost always get the short end of the stick).

This surplus of workers is aggravated by migrants from the provinces and the countryside who come to Metro-Manila in hopes of  finding better livelihood opportunities than those back home.  Even if they don't find formal employment, most of them stay on, competing with a population already hustling for a living however they can get one.  Given the Philippine culture of family narcissism, many people will do anything, legal or otherwise to put food on the table.  Naturally, desperation and ruthlessness contribute to the high crime rate here.  

As a result of low pay a large number of parents can't properly support their families.  And since laws against child labor and abuse are laxly enforced, many kids drop out of school and go to work, run away, or are abandoned by their families to fend for themselves.  Those who survive street life  grow up educationally and socially handicapped and in turn produce children whom they can't afford to properly take care of.  And so the cycle continues generation after generation in ever increasing numbers. 

Several steps need to be taken to successfully combat worker exploitation.  Here are a few:  Population control including widespread and cheap availability of contraceptives; strict implementation of wage and labor laws. improved public education quality, facilities, and opportunities; free and /or low cost health care for all; decentralization of public and private workplaces in order to improve job availability outside of Metro-Manila to locations throughout the country, along with infrastructure repair and expansion (which itself will provide jobs) to facilitate a reverse migration.

At any rate,  the present state of affairs cannot long endure.  If the workers' plight and other serious problems plaguing the Philippines, as discussed in "Stopping the Ticking Time Bomb", continue to be ignored, this country may soon reach a breaking point from which it can never recover.  And if that happens, it won't be just the lower working class that will find itself in a Darwinian struggle for survival.

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