PAGASA mass exodus: Why are workers treated like crap in the Philippines?


Simple. Because there are so many of them. That’s a lesson in an Economics 101 course — the Law of Supply and Demand. When the enormous supply of a commodity dwarfs demand for it, the value of that commodity is crushed. Employers in the Philippines can treat their workers like crap, because they can.

pagasa_exodusThe Philippines, is and has for the most part of its history been an employers’ market. That means employers have the upper hand in setting employment terms for most of the workforce. Banks, for example, can demand that their tellers be university-educated. Nurses are a another good example. Some of them actually work for a negative salary — as in they often have to pay hospitals to employ them (because they are desperate for the work experience that foreign employers look for).

For the average Filipino worker, no other advise resonates more than this simple grandmotherly admonition:

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Pasalamat ka may trabaho ka.

(“Be thankful you have a job.”)

The fact is, everyone is replaceable. Unless, perhaps, you are John Lennon or Steve Jobs. Or a meteorologist.

India and China are churning out so many engineers, for example, that someday (if the job market in the West flattens out enough), they may start coming to the Philippines. The only thing keeping them out at the moment is legislation. For that matter, the only reason many workers are paid the minimum wage is because there is a Minimum Wage Law. That’s sort of like price controls. There is, effectively, a Black Market for Pinoy labour and many in the country’s holy “civil society” are themselves players in that market. Allow wages to float in a free market and watch them crash.

That’s not necessarily bad.

It might actually result in more jobs being created.

For now, there simply isn’t enough domestic activity to absorb the Philippines’ enormous labour force.

The reason Pinoy workers are abused is because there is a long queue of warm bodies eagerly waiting to take any job vacated by “victims”. But try downsizing that supply and watch how quickly things change. In his book The History of England – Foundation, Peter Ackroyd describes just such a situation in medieval England following the decimation of her majesty’s population by the plague. English labour actually became so valuable that her feudal administrators at the time had to implement a maximum wage law to curb skyrocketing labour costs…

Yet the pestilence had slow but permanent effects on English society. The shortage of labour [as a result of the population decline] had the immediate result of increasing both the level of wages and the chances of employment. The phenomenon of the landless or impoverished peasant wholly disappeared. But the rising demands of the working people who had survived, their worth now doubled by the epidemic, provoked a reaction from the landowners and magnates. The knights of the shires, in particular, perceived a threat to good order.

An Ordinance of Labourers was passed by a parliament in 1349, forbidding employers to pay more for labour than they had before the pestilence. The same Act deemed that it was illegal for an unemployed man to refuse work. The measures were not realistic. Many workers and their families could simply move to another district and to a more generous employer who was willing to ignore the law. Some migrated to towns, for example, where there was great demand for manual labourers such as masons and carpenters. A ploughman might become a tiler. More than enough work was available.


Many younger people now possessed their own holdings of land. And the best land did not remain vacant for long. There had once been too many farmers and labourers working too little soil, but now they were dispersed over the countryside.

It’s sort of the same principle at work when the National Food Authority (NFA) burns surplus grain stocks — a practice that often baffles the average Filipino “activist”. There needs to be a reasonable degree of scarcity to stabilise the value of a commodity.

With labour, that can be a bit tricky. You can’t simply burn excess labour supply to stabilise wages. So we do the third best thing (the Minimum Wage law, being the second), a “solution” many many Philippine governments encouraged: export of Filipino labour overseas. Trouble with that is the growth in labour scarcity this yielded couldn’t keep up with Filipinos’ renowned talent for making babies by the truckload. And many of these workers weren’t really the surplus factory outlet products of Philippine society. Many of its most valuable talent left — most-recently the prized weather forecasters of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

Says Senate President Franklin Drilon

“The government has to prevent this brain drain of our meteorological services by addressing the plights and woes of their personnel regarding adequate compensation,” he added.

“We do not want to arrive at the situation where Filipino weather experts will say ‘Walang pag-asa sa PAGASA’ ,” stressed the Senate leader.

This is as he campaigns for a “fast track” passage of Senate Bill 2265 which aims to “increase the salary and benefits of personnel of the PAGASA and modernize its equipment and facilities and other measures aimed at PAGASA modernization in order to avert a brain-drain crisis.”

Well, that all sounds nice and heroic on paper — except that it comes across as too little, too late. We can now only look back with nostalgia to the days when Filipinos numbered only 20 million-odd. Those were, indeed, the good ol’ days.

10 Replies to “PAGASA mass exodus: Why are workers treated like crap in the Philippines?”

  1. Really, that was Drilon’s solution to underemployment? And how much are we paying him for his job?

    I can still remember the old Bisolvon commercial with the bald guy, “You supress the cough but not the source of cough—-phlegm”.

    Are they really clueless that the government, for decades now, have failed to create enough jobs for the ever growing population? Half a million filipinos graduated from college last March, how many jobs were created the same year? This is not counting those who finished voc-tech courses or those who simply just stopped schooling to work because of poverty. Is it really just lack of foresight? Then these people tasked to address these problems are obviously overpaid or not needed anymore.

    Nope, jobs in SM or Jollibee do not count, I mean real jobs, not a 5-month stint. Entrepreneurship is not the answer, Bam (AKA trying hard Ellen Degenres) as it will only serve the likes of your family.

    Manufacturing should have been the answer but last time I checked, they moved out of the country because of high operational costs. No thanks to the monopoly in fuel and electricity. And also government red tape.

    Agriculture could have made a bit of a difference but farmlands now are being turned to subdivisions or just wasteland thanks to the rampant influx of cheap (maybe smuggled)imported agricultural products, local farming cannot compete with them.

    Can the idiots up there in palace beside the river, senate and congress think of this more important problem and not your pork barrel scam kangaroo court? Can you just for once stop thinking about the 2016 elections? Can you just please do your effing jobs!

  2. It really is sickening. Part-time no benefit jobs are the norm. Even ‘try-outs’, work for nothing for 30/60/90 days and if you work out we will hire you as permanent and then no one gets hired permanently.Entire hi-rise bldgs have been built w/out a single peso spent on wages.

    The entire country is a disgrace, non-existenet labor laws, zero environmental laws leading to de-forrestation and contributing to flooding of rural villages. It is as if the ‘oligarchic’ structure if fed by the citizenry and the citizenry are given the facade of democracy in rigged elections.

    A mess of a failed state: How can this keep going? it is necessary to ‘control’ the ‘massa’ and that is done surprisingly easily in the islandia’s de fillippe. it is almost too bizarre to actually believe that this has been tolerated as long as it has been.the ‘massa’ outnumber the ‘weapon-less’ ‘ill-trained’ authorities 100,000 to 1 and yet nothing of a change remotely occurs…bizarre, truly bizarre.

    ‘Kunta be good N!**A’, uh-huh.

  3. Keep on screwing like dogs and making babies of father-less children with no child support mechanism’s in place. That there? it is a sure recipe for a continued stymie of the labor situation in the country.

    Any Filipino that can get out of the country should do so immediately, and never return….or at least not return until permanen’civil’t status abroad is secured.
    You will be sorry if you do not.

  4. There is now also developing a backlash against immigrant labour in the West as well. A Canadian citizens went berserk just last night and killed 3 cops as he is/was sick of foreign immigrant workers taking all entry level jobs in his country. People all over the world are becoming outraged about a lot of things.those at the top are laughing at the divisions in the ‘lower tiers’ of society, literally laughing.

  5. It seems that Philippine universities don’t cater to producing (many) specialists for skilled work. I’ve seen a degree record for a computer science ‘major’ that involved studying literature of the Philippines, arts, sport and other random modules in no way relevant to that major.

    It’s like they aim to produce Jacks-and-Jills-of-all-trades rather than people with honed skills who might be the best candidates in their chosen fields when the decent job opportunities come up.

  6. Its not the task and not the duty of a government to create jobs. The government is NOT a job-factory. The government should stick to its core-business. At best the government can facilitate and make sure all companies create equal opportunities and set minimum wages.
    The jobs must come from the corporate side. And then in the west we are already talking about robotizing & automation making human labour more and more void. So the future for the philippine employed & unemployed workers look grim.

    1. @ robert

      You are right, creating jobs is not their direct responsibility. What I am saying is that the Philippine government failed to make an environment for businesses and industries to grow and flourish which could have provided jobs for filipinos. That is what they are supposed to be planning for, taking into consideration the number of filipinos finishing school and becoming unemployed/underemployed.

      The minimum wage for the national capital region is only Php 466 daily (about 10k monthly) equivalent to about USD 11. You would think they have thought that over and that would be enough. The average household of 5 in urban areas, you think that is enough. If the family is renting, which most probably does then you can take Php 5-8k a month out of that. Utilities and transportation, school for kids, food…. You think it’s reasonable?

      And also, the government has failed to address the security of tenure as it is almost non-existent. Most of the jobs would take new employees in for 5 months “probationary” period, after which they are supposed to be regular employees. But that rarely happens as regular employees costs more for the employer than getting a new “probationary” guy. Or worst, they would just employ a person under a 5 month contract period, and then just renew the poor guy’s 5 month contract over and over again. Republic Act 6715 attributed to the “saintly” Cory Aquino makes sure of this. Which, in my opinion was created to give the illusion that she has created a lot of jobs during her tenure plus a chance to exploit more the poor filipino guy in favor of the businesses which we all know she has favored more than the ordinary filipino’s plight.

      1. @joeld,

        First, I know too little of the Phili job-market in order to say something sensible. On the other hand, I can look at by how I wa strained and educated myself.

        So from that latter point of view, I can only say that I guess the Phili population is too big for the current number of jobs (demand versus supply).
        If the Phili government take sits own population seriously then it (the government) should do something about the population. How? By decreasing all its incentives. They (the government) should make a clear statement to the public that large/big families are not favoured. Maybe (I dont know) the government pays “child benefits” to families with kids. That could be reduced (if paid). The government could raise income tax for bigger families (so that it disencourages big families). With the only goal to get a equilibrium in supply and demand for/in jobs.

        Also when supply (number of people wanting a job) is high and demand (the number of jobs offered) is lower it also has the effect that wages go down.

        As for the corporate side (the businesses; the employers) they have an opposite interest than the workers (employees) especially when the economy is at a “baisse” . Then they want to lay off personell as much as possible.

        If I am not mistaken the minimum wage in the Netherlands is about Euro 8.50 per hour (gross hourly income). The net income is lower because of deductions/withholdings. Working 37-40 hours per week this will come down to approx Euro 1470 per month.

        A person working part time (20 hrs per week) with the mentioned hour rate is unable to live alone because he/she cant afford such a life (rent, electricity, water, food, clothing).

  7. Filipinos multiply like Rabbits…becuse most of its religion, opposes birth control…
    The Brains in our country are gone. They were the most talented; and most educated Filipinos. They would had made a great difference in creating jobs; and serving our country. Instead, foreign countries welcome them; and made the citizens…
    This is the NEGATIVE EFFECT of the OFW program…brain drain on accelerated phase…

  8. The brain drain is oh so evident at my workplace. We train gifted young Filipino professionals in the hope we can keep them for 4 years before they take the skills and go abroad. Then we pay expats a small fortune to fill the senior positions.

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