The Mobile Filipino: Glorified Victims of the Crisis of Capitalism

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The Mobile Filipino: Glorified Victims of the Crisis of Capitalism

By: Marlon Cornelio and Rafaela David, Akbayan Youth – Philippines.

Parts of this paper were presented during the Workers Youth Festival, 9-12 May, Dortmund Germany. First published in the Newsletter of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY). 

The future doesn’t look bright in the Philippines. That is, at least for some 60 % of Filipino youth, from rural and urban, ages 15-30, who desire to work abroad because of higher pay according to the 2010 Youth Study of the National Youth Commission. This is despite the knowledge that working abroad is not healthy for family stability, according to more than 70% of those surveyed. About 85% of those surveyed recognize limited opportunities to earn a living in the country.

While noble with intentions to support their families by working abroad, young people, — future scientists,engineers, teachers, medical practitioners, etc. — comprising a third of the Philippine population, are leaving their country for “greener” pastures. Already, about 10% of the 100 Million Filipinos are working abroad, known as overseas Filipinoworkers (OFWs). They are ‘honored’ by the government as the ‘new heroes’ for sending back remittances amounting to more than US$ 20 B a year, 4th largest in the world next to China, India and Mexico, and keeping the economy afloat despite the global economic crises.

Additionally, there are about a million young Filipinos, physically in the country but working for businesses abroad, working in call centers or business process outsourcing (BPOs), one ofthe fastest growing industries in the country for the past years. In 2012, the BPO sector generated revenues of more than US$ 13 B. The industry has grown an average of 20-25% from 2009 to 2012, and is projected to grow more in the coming years.

The global outsourcing industry is one of the few industries that thrived despite the economic crises in the past years. In 2009, the global revenues increased from US$ 106 B (2008) to US$110, employing a total of close to 4 million professionals. By 2016, the industry forecasts revenue of US$ 300B with almost eight million employed. In the Philippines, US$ 25 B, about a tenth of the world revenue, is projected for 2016, with a direct workforce of 1.3 million, accounting for nine percent of GDP.

The numbers for both industries look promising. Philippine economic managers have only praises for the workers in these two industries for the 6.8 % growth in the GDP in 2012 despite the global economic crises.

But is this internationally-dependent, service industry-backed growth sustainable? What is this growth if not a symptom of capital crossing borders to increase profit by exploiting cheap labor?

Indeed, this growth based on mobile labor brings to the fore three important issues that need to be looked at: (1) the ever-adapting nature of neoliberal capitalism, (2) unsustainableand inequitable growth in the Philippine economy and (3) the high cost of labor trading on workers’ rights.

Why the Philippines? — Capital Exploring Greener Pastures

Alongside the mobility of labor is the mobility of capital. Capitalism, always in a state of crisis and expansion, has found its way yet again across borders, this time around, across the Philippine border and other developing countries, for the cheapest labor.

Dubbed as one of the “Tiger Cub Economies” of Asia, the Philippines, like other developing countries, has proven an attractive market where cheap labor can be bought to stabilize the capitalist crisis that had been growing in the shores of developed countries. On the one hand, labor migration or the OFW phenomenon has proven to make capital more profitable, with Filipinos themselves becoming cheap commodities for sale, pushing the service sector in countries abroad at highly profitable rates. It has also provided a way out for businesses not to heed to the demands of more organized labor movements in developed countries.  It is not uncommon for migrant workers to be pitted against local workers.

The whole business of labor export has also led to the investment of capital to institutions that profit from the trade of labor. These include both legal and illegal recruiting agencies, big corporate service providers and even government agencies. Employers in receiving countries are of course more than willing to accommodate OFWs for the sake of skilled workers at cheaper labor costs.

More recently, we also see outsourcing as another form of capital adaptation. Investments poured in the Philippines as the country has become a location of choice for companies outsourcing operational processes, voice and non-voice, such as human resources,information technology support, medical transcription, engineering services,animation, game development and finance and accounting. According to the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP), the Philippines has the largest number of voice-BPO employees in the world and has established itself as a mature tier-1 destination globally.

In its reports, BPAP attributes the attractiveness of the Philippines as an outsourcing destination to a number of factors including strong English-speaking capabilities, low infrastructure and labor costs, large base of fresh graduates and talent availability, as well as strong government support.

Demand for the Philippine labor force, therefore, increases with high supply of cheap yet skilled workers — a  more than good deal for most investors.

Growth for Growth’s Sake

The Philippine government, hence on its part, has been more than willing to oblige foreign investors, promoting both officially and unofficially labor mobility both outside (in the form of OFWs) and inside (in the form of BPOs), citing labor as one of the country’s richest resource, lauded further by the government for keeping the Philippine economy growing in the midst of the global economic meltdown.

The optimism on our economy basedon the 6.8% growth in GDP in 2012 however is misleading.

Looking at the Philippine economy closely, it is evident that the service sector contributed mostly to the growth. This proves problematic as even the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in its recent report stated that unless government supports policies that promote a more robust manufacturing sector, the Philippines has a long way to go to achieve inclusive growth.

The report further stated that the Philippines’ reliance on BPO industry and remittances-driven private consumption do not provide higher paying jobs needed to reduce poverty. This is more importantly critical as even if job creation has increased due to BPOs and OFWs, total labor force participation has not increased. Moreover, the pool of skilled workers are forced to take low-productivity jobs both here and abroad, while there is an increase in the underutilization of moderately skilled workers.

Labor trade and the economic growth subsequently prove both unsustainable and inequitable. Growth herein does not translate to local development and poverty alleviation. It is no surprise then when the growth in the aggregate wealth of our 40 richest families in 2011 has shown to be equivalent (in value) to 76.5 percent of the growth in our total GDP at the time.

The Price of Growth – The High Cost of Labor Trading On Workers’ Rights

The creation of jobs here and abroad has been hailed as among the most important indicators of growth in the local economy. But what kinds of jobs are generated in this labor export business?

There are inspiring stories ofFilipinos being lucky and accomplished in their work abroad. However,generally, OFWs are vulnerable to a number of risks when they go out of the country. The risks begin in the Philippines where local recruiters, acting as placement agencies, get high commissions from aspiring applicants. Once deployed, they are forced to take low-paying contracts that do not reflect earlier agreements with the local recruiters. Many OFWs working in the domestic sector further find themselves in repressive situations, where the pay is lowand the working hours long. Mostly women, they are expected to work 18-20 hours a day and fulfill the sexual needs of their employers. Those in better paying jobs in more developed countries are more fortunate. Nonetheless, they become subject to discriminate office policies and lower salary grades.

This is not to mention the effects of labor migration to both the OFW’s social well-being and to his/her family left in the Philippines. With social adjustments in the new country, integration is not always a pleasant experience, with support systems not readily accessible, especially to those who were recruited illegally. Moreover, the alienation of the worker from his/her family and the dependence bred on remittance becomes a source of conflict in OFW families.

BPO industries on the other hand show another scenario. The entry rate in the industry is between PHP16, 000 and PHP18, 000 which is 50% more than the minimum wage rage in Metro Manila pegged at PHP 389-426 a day. This relatively higher salary however comes with greater cost attributed to odd working hours,irate clients, tedious workloads and heavy performance demands. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the International Labor Office (ILO) found the BPO workers have issues on stress, poor diet, physical inactivity, tobacco and alcohol use, HIV and IDS, tuberculosis and violence.

Furthermore, health complaints concerning eyes, cough, voice disorders and insomnia are common among call center agents. The prevalence of these health problems have been noted significantly higher compared to other night shift workers. BPO night-shift workers are also more predisposed to safety issues, particularly petty crimes. Attrition rate is also significantly high in BPO industries at 9-10% at the average. With these working conditions, one out of three would resign at the end of the year or four times as high as the national average on turnover rate. With these considerations, career development and job security are huge challenges.

Towards a Global Network of Workers

Despite such job insecurities,labor migration, real and virtual, is a growing industry in the Philippines. Working abroad or in BPOs has increasingly become the option for young Filipinos and the government lays policies and invests on infrastructures that promote such kind of market behavior. Similar patterns can be observed and should be expected in other developing countries.

The challenge now of the Filipino progressives and their counterparts is three-pronged: one, the immediate task to consolidate the formidable force of the growing number of migrant (OFW and BPO) workers; two, the necessity to develop cooperations with workers in developing and developed countries, in both countries sending and receiving migrant workers; and, three, the large scale work of directing longterm policy from growth to sustainable and equitable development, while providing security and safety nets for the workers and their families.

The first two tasks prove daunting enough. But the growing labor market that transcends national borders provides progressives with a promising international network of skilled cadres. Workers from developing countries should be empowered to collectively bargain and not to take part in the bidding for the cheapest labor. Decent jobs should be a universal standard applied in and demanded by workers in developed and developing countries. If perhaps progressive movements can once again consolidate their ranks, the third task of directing government policies will necessarily follow.

JUSTICE FOR THE NORWAY VICTIMS!

Akbayan Youth is one with the World in strongly condemning the cowardly and barbaric act committed against the innocent civilians in Oslo and in Utoeya Island. Today is a black day for Filipinos as well. The recent bombing in Oslo and massacre in Utoeya exposes the reality that terrorism exists in all colors and stripes. Reports by media have placed the casualties at around 87 dead and many more injured.

Most of the casualties in Utoeya shooting were fellow youth progressives. Many of them were enjoying their summer camp enjoying the company of friends unaware that it would end in tragedy. As for the victims in the Oslo bombings, many were office workers or staff of the government offices.

We cannot help but suspect that both attacks were concerted and deliberately targeting people for their political affiliation. Nonetheless, regardless of the race, gender or affiliation of the victims, it is clear that this was an act of terror, plain and simple.

We express our condolences to the families of the victims and hope for the immediate arrest of all the perpetrators. We understand that the Norwegian government is doing its best to swiftly bring those involved to justice.

We also call on all progressive youth around the world to stand with our AUF and Norwegian brothers and sisters and be vigilant and stand in defiance against all forms of terror whether perpetrated by lone gunmen, religious militants, or even by state and non-state actors. We can effectively prevent atrocities like these through persistent and uncompromising efforts to push for peace, dialogue and rule of law.

We are all AUF Activists and Norwegians today. Justice for all victims of fascist terror!

In Solidarity,

Akbayan Youth

Imperialist Terror

Imperialist Terror

Akbayan! Youth  Statement on the Murder of Osama bin Laden

Last Monday, May 2, 2011, the United States of America came out bearing the supposed good news for a world long-bedeviled by the specter of terrorism. Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden, labeled number one enemy of the free world, has been killed, identified and buried by elements of the United States Armed Forces in Abbotabad, Pakistan. It is perceived a historic serving of justice for the man who claimed responsibility for the killing of countless lives in the destruction of the World Trade Center in September 11, 2001.

For many in the developed countries and their partisans, such a momentous event calls for a celebration of the triumph of liberty. Many have also considered it the triumph of Good over Evil. Already, the re-election prospects of incumbent United States President Barack Obama for 2012 have been projected optimistically. Moreover, it seems to have validated the War on Terror that the administration of George W. Bush has inaugurated in 2001.

Yet we at Akbayan! Youth ask, with disturbed consciences: what is there actually to celebrate? What is there actually to be happy and optimistic about in the death of one man? What is there to hope for in the perceived validation of a policy of persistent policing and obsession over security? What are we to glorify in a punitive form of international relations?

The killing of Osama bin Laden has only served one purpose: to highlight that the United States of America has not learned its lesson from its costly mistakes of intervention in the Philippines, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. In pursuing its supposed duty, responsibility and privilege as leader of the free world, it has justified its commission of atrocious acts of violence against the marginalized of the world. In the name of Liberty and Truth, it has sapped for itself and its rich allies in the Global North the wealth of the world. It left for the rest of humanity living spaces where fear, misery and poverty drive them towards extremes of attempts to validate their existence. It would be myopic to think that these terrorists are out there to solely sow fear and evil intents; they are there to fight for what they perceive to be a re-assertion of their identity. If any, we should disabuse ourselves of the idea that the Joker, the avatar of pure malice and chaos, can actually exist.

Jean Baudrillard, as early as immediately after the horrors of 9/11, considered the assault of Al Qaeda and the proliferation of terrorism in the world as fundamentally an event that America has brought upon itself. The violence of its introduction, proliferation and imposition of neoliberal capitalism, which has severely widened the gap between the haves and have-nots of the world, has left them no other space to be heard other than a violent upheaval of the current oppressive social order. Let us not forget that Osama bin Laden himself, trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency, was an ally of the United States during the Cold War, where Afghan mujahedeen fighters laid down their lives fighting off the perceived Soviet Red menace. That they could be prized allies for one moment, then considered acceptable targets the next, shows how capricious and ridiculous the extent to which the United States has gone to protect its hegemony, at the cost of development and lives in the Global South.

It is quite ironic, indeed, that the herald of white supremacist ideology at this point is an African American. It might be remembered that President Obama promised to close down the detention facilities of Guantanamo Bay and bring the fight against terror within the bounds of legality. The murder of Bin Laden, in a sense, mirrors his administration’s reversal of principles. Obama promised to bring the terrorists to formal and restorative justice, making them face trial and accorded all the rights of the accused. Obviously, this was ignored. The vigilantism of the United States, it must be made clear, does not know any bounds, as long as they are considered different and inimical to the American way of life.

We therefore ask that the United States, if it still has a sense of moral responsibility to the global system it has nurtured, to immediately withdraw all troops to Afghanistan and relieve the responsible citizens-at-arms of their decade-long sacrifices in the name of homeland security. They should not be made to suffer of the caprices of the adventurism of the Bush regime, with this war practically taking a fatal toll on the politico-economic stability of the country to date (a situation which, as Akbayan! Rep. Walden Bello noted, practically accords victory to the terrorists and Bin Laden), exploited upon for self-profiteering by the military industrialists. They must now deal with their own problems in their own backyard, such as the increasing unemployment rates and persisting class strife among their working classes. With Noam Chomsky’s highlighting of the overbearing ironies of America’s vigilantism (as well as the flames of anti-Americanism it has sparked all over the world), they can no longer afford to play the part of “superhero” which they have been playing at for decades now.

It is time that people condemn the persisting penchant of the United States towards unilateral impositions of policy, particularly on matters of war and security, at the international front. As part of a global progressive movement towards democratization in the world, we should strive to do our best to emancipate and empower communities, according to their own terms and cultural necessities, so that acts of terrorist violence may no longer become an option for them. In the long run, a situation of persistent violence on all fronts could only result in mutually-assured destruction and decay. The youth, in this sense, should play a key role in promoting dialogue, identification and socialization with people of different backgrounds, to promote an atmosphere of understanding and harmonious co-existence. A framework of tolerance will only go so far and can still trigger suspicions; we must continue to speak out and listen to the marginalized.

Akbayan! Youth believes that the killing of one man will only convince more to rise in their name. Far be it from us to justify violent reprisals (nor do we invalidate the victimization of those who perished in 9/11). Yet we believe that the murder of Bin Laden, justified by the American state’s monopoly of force, will only convince the terrorists to step up their assaults on perceived allies of America, which they consider the progenitor of the unjust world order which brings them misery. Vigilantism and imperial policing is in itself an act of terrorism, a disrespect for international laws and the sovereign capacity of nation-states. In a world where fear has been actively cultivated and suspicion of fellow human beings is validated, the oppressive institutions of American influence are similarly terrorists.

Statement of Migrant Forum in Asia

in solidarity with the migrant workers around the globe…

Mabuhay Akbayan 4th nominee Ellene Sana!

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MFA STATEMENT* AT THE SECOND SESSION

OF THE DOMESTIC WORKERS’ COMMITTEE

99th Session of the International Labour Conference, Geneva, 3 June 2010

A vast majority of the UN-estimated 60 million migrant workers in Asia are women and are predominantly engaged in domestic work. Most of them come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Thailand, and Lao PDR and are employed in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Macau, India, Taiwan, and the Middle East. Many more Asian women are employed as domestic workers elsewhere in the world.

Domestic workers are driven to engage in domestic work for various reasons – most common of which is the endemic poverty in their homes that makes it impossible for them to have job opportunities in other industries or fields of work. Most of these women are driven out of their own countries in the hope of earning better incomes abroad while they provide domestic services to foreign employers. This puts domestic workers in one of the most insecure of environments where work is often casual, temporary, sub-contracted or informal, where benefits and conditions are not standardized – no minimum wage, no set working hours, no social security, and no provisions for occupational safety – and where there is little, if any, labour and human rights protection.

Furthermore, despite the significant contributions of domestic workers to their households and employers’ families, to communities and countries (both of origin and destination), and to the industries and economies in which they selflessly invest their time, skills, sweat and tears, these domestic workers have yet to enjoy the recognition they have so long deserved. Domestic work is yet to be fully and widely recognised as work: domestic workers are yet to be covered by labour laws that protect and promote their rights, welfare, and dignity. Their work should be valued and respected as one of the essential job sectors that contribute to society’s productivity and development; and that therefore, their conditions of work must be on a par with other job categories including valid work contracts and visas, social mobility, job security and collective labour rights.

A critical step for the International Campaign for the Rights and Recognition of Domestic Workers is the establishment of international labour and human rights standards specific to domestic workers. These will help provide the minimum basis and standards for the recognition of the status and rights of domestic workers as workers.

The existing core UN instruments and the fundamental ILO labour standards can be and are being used by domestic workers’ groups and advocates in asserting the rights and status of domestic workers as workers. Foremost among these are CEDAW and the Migrant Workers’ Convention. However, all of these provide only partial coverage of domestic workers’ rights. A definitive, coherent, and comprehensive instrument is needed to clearly establish minimum standards and rights for ALL domestic workers as workers.

Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), Asian Migrant Domestic Workers’ Alliance (ADWA), and the International Working Group for Domestic Workers (IWG-DW), believe an ILO Convention on Domestic Work will significantly contribute to the reduction of slavery-like conditions, abuse, violence, exploitation, inequality, and discrimination against women and domestic workers. It will help reduce the worst forms of child labour, the stigmatization and criminalization of migrant domestic workers including undocumented workers, and racial and ethnic discrimination.

At this critical juncture where the fate of the proposed ILO Convention rests in the hands of governments, workers’ groups, and employers’ groups, we are encouraged by the common sentiment of the tripartite partners. Certainly, we are in agreement that domestic work is work and that domestic workers must be treated with respect and dignity.

We appreciate the tripartite’s recognition of the urgent need to have a flexible but robust and effective instrument that protects domestic workers. We believe that this takes the form of a Convention Supplemented by Recommendations.

Finally, we emphasize the urgency of having domestic workers themselves centrally and critically involved in this process otherwise, the non-recognition and marginalization of domestic workers will be reinforced. We recognize the domestic workers who are with us today who will be directly affected by what is done or not done in their name in this 99th session of the ILC. We stand in solidarity with the domestic workers who cannot be physically present here but who engaged in the various national and regional processes to ensure their voices are heard and their demands for rights and recognition are considered, recognized, respected, and protected.

We are all eagerly anticipating a historic moment unfold in this year’s ILC.

*Delivered for MFA by Miss Ellene Sana, Chairperson of the MFA Executive Committee