It almost seemed like a joke, except that it had quotes from the Bureau of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz about there being a need to “liberalize the labor market and allow entry of foreign workers with the required skills so we can fill up those hard to fill occupations due to shortage.”
And you know liberalization is never a joke. Neither is employment.
Those employment numbers
Government has been consistently celebrating lower unemployment numbers, and in 2013 DOLE patted itself on the back countless times for projects such as its Community-Based Employment Program (CBEP) or its career orientation sessions, which according to their press releases have reached citizens in the thousands. One press release claims that the DOLE has hired 1.7 million individuals through its CBEP program.
A look at the CBEP site yields nothing, other than more numbers. It is unclear what these jobs are and what kind of employment the 1.7 Filipinos were given. One hopes of course that these are jobs that match the skills of our workers, and that it is not contractual employment. One hopes that the 1.7 million Filipinos that are employed under the government’s labor program are earning just wages, and do not suffer job insecurity borne of endo (end of contract).
But that is being hopeful. In truth the task of the CBEP according to its website is to provide “temporary or immediate employment to skilled, semi-skilled, and low-skilled workers.” The words temporary and immediate tell me that what this operates on is the urgency with which workers must be employed. And as with many-an-employment project, what it can become is a way to siphon workers off to jobs no matter contractualization and lack of benefits, and regardless of workers’ rights.
This is the thing about employment: we rarely get more than numbers. And it’s not to be suspicious of numbers per se, as it is to wonder about what it actually looks like on the ground. When we say that this government has successfully kept unemployment down, what does that mean exactly? Who is hiring these workers, and what kinds of jobs are they in?
The same kinds of questions were in my head the moment I read about Labor Secretary Baldoz rationalizing the liberalization of labor—that is, the hiring of foreign workers to fill jobs, which apparently the local workforce cannot fill. According to Baldoz this used to be a list of 40 occupations; they have been able to trim it down to 15 occupations in need of workers.
Workers who are not Filipino.
That is, foreigners may now work as architects, chemical engineers, chemists, environmental planners, fisheries technologists, geologists, guidance counselors, licensed librarians, medical technologists, sanitary engineers, computer numerical control machinists, assembly technicians, test technicians, pilot and aircraft mechanics in this country. Foreigners will take on these jobs because there are no Filipinos who are skilled in these professions.
One wonders exactly how the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES) has come up with proof of this lack—this need—that has pushed the labor office to believe that hiring foreign workers is the answer. One wonders if there is a need because these companies want experienced workers, and not fresh graduates? One wonders how this lack of Filipino workers might be borne of the constant migration of our workers to anywhere at all in the world? One wonders which companies are looking for these highly skilled workers and whether they stand to gain by hiring foreign workers instead of taking from the local workforce.
One wonders if there’s another way to fill this gap, other than putting in foreign workers. Say open up these jobs for Filipino Overseas Filipino Workers and give them a chance to come home? Say, open up these jobs for our skilled workers, and give them free training or internships to become the highly skilled worker that these companies are looking for?
Certainly there are more creative ways to fill in this gap. Yet it’s also clear that the urgencies of employment problems are solved by quick and easy measures, never mind that these do not look good for us in the long term.
Labor Secretary Baldoz says, for example, that her office is working with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to generate interest in the degrees that would allow our graduates to take on these jobs. She says that “up to a certain point when the shortage has already been addressed, we can go back to normal and hire local workers.”
I laugh out loud. There is no going back to hiring local workers the moment foreign workers have filled in these posts. With education and skills from elsewhere, these foreign workers might leave those jobs, but certainly they will create a set of expectations and requirements that our local graduates are not equipped to meet. Certainly by the time the shortage has been met and our local graduates can take on these jobs, these posts will have been already redefined by foreign workers.
It is sad really, not only this lack of vision for employment in this country, but even more so the fact that the last people we protect are our own workers. The Labor Department based its decision to liberalize employment on a proposal by its own Bureau of Local Employment Statistics—a project funded by the European Union. It is this same project that recommends that the Labor Department lighten the restrictions on foreign workers for these occupations.
It is clear who stands to gain from this. It’s not us.