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.
The 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).
“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.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.