On the temptation of overseas Filipino workers

February 14 is Migrants Day. The priest who officiated the anticipated mass on Saturday said the rise in the separation of Filipino couples and family break ups is due to temptations resulting from loneliness faced by Filipino workers abroad. Perhaps. But the way I see it, the cause is of a nature far less personal and larger than the individual headhunter, employer, or worker, tempted or not. I say this after recently dealing with an issue anchored on the same logic.

My organization has been dealing with the recurring issue of delayed liquidations of huge cash advances to field staff. The policy is that no further advance could be issued if previous amounts had not been liquidated in the prescribed time. Current financial system set up however has the effect of delaying implementation of projects. It is for this that the policy was put aside and priority given to speedy implementation. Delayed liquidations were dealt with on a case to case basis. Of late however the policy is being reinstated and field staff to be penalized.

I disagreed however – that part on field staff being penalized – and made my argument clear during the monthly staff meeting. I said that the knee-jerk reaction is to conclude staff are at fault because it’s apparent their actions are against policy. But, dig underneath the surface – the why and how – and the real cause comes to light: (1) member-organizations otherwise independent from the federation are non-operational i.e. without management structures, operational systems, personnel, enough money to run the organization, etc.; (2) federation staff have been taking out cash advances from the federation (not to mention practically working as members’ staff) so it can be said there were projects implemented for members’ children and young people and under their names too; (3) despite these lapses the federation has continued to coddle the member-organizations in the process making sacrificial lambs of it’s own professional staff and it’s own policies and procedures a laughingstock. I was in a fit. There were BOTs present and to them I said it is their and management’s responsibility to see to it that members toe the line, do their part.

Following the same logic, temptation or loneliness is just the tip of the iceberg in the break up of OFW families. There is more to the phenomenon.

The mechanization of labor. Foreign employers in my father’s time pay for the expatriation of employees and their families as well as, with father’s employer, housing and schooling. These employers have it in their policy that employees work far more productively (hence grow in value to the organization) when their families are with them. This class of employees still exist in the country albeit a smaller community now: the so-called expats. Their level of skills and knowledge is such that they could command their price and perks to go with their deployment.

After this golden period, starting in the mid-80s, about when countries opened their doors to globalization, the nature of labor saw gradual change more so in the advent of technological advancement i.e. computers, the World Wide Web, etc. In the quest for productivity, that is, keeping costs down even while producing more and with quality, labor has been rendered faceless and soulless. Labor became just another good to be traded, it’s value taken out of the hands of workers and dictated by the mass production-oriented market. In the workplace, the worker is looked upon as another “machine” to create added value to production; discarded eventually for a better “machine” deemed more valuable; so on and so forth.

The individual worker feels the effects of this change, for instance, the way government, employer, society, and the economy treats him as when he’s aggressively targeted for don’t-care-how-cramped-your-living-quarters-are-abroad-we-only-want-your-dollars-here marketing and sales campaigns. He is primarily seen as a walking ATM at home.

But unknown to all the OFW even with some gains in financial freedom privately yearns for workplace freedom and support, such as adjustment period, voice in the workplace, equal pay, paid leaves, communication allowance perhaps, be able to tell his or her employer F***Y*** for unreasonable treatment in short an open door policy with their boss, etc. Unresolved issues at work, throw in difficulties navigating communication and cultural gaps, take a toll on their emotional and mental health.

I don’t think a normal person can go long without connection, touch, reassurance. To address specific needs, OFWs should be able to access formal institutions abroad e.g. counseling centers or support groups. Informal avenues would be friendships and workplace groups. But sometimes these are not enough.

The prayer during the Saturday anticipated mass was for OFWs to be strong in standing up to temptations. I didn’t think it was the right prayer. I believe OFWs are already doing their best given the circumstances. For them, loneliness does not only pertain to physical distance from loved ones. It also stems from the absence or withdrawal of real time support of duty bearers in as far as the world of work is concerned. The prayer should have been one uttered in behalf of us at home, to have eyes to see and having seen to take courage and promptly act within our spheres of influence.

The GOP is a signatory in the global framework for Decent Work in which ‘decent work’ is defined as

opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity

The Department Of Labor and Employment (DOLE) should monitor for compliance. One reason employers go ahead and break labor provisions and standards is that DOLE has also shaped this behavior. The agency has become passive in it’s role in monitoring and education. It passively waits for complaints to walk in through it’s doors.

Labor attaches within Philippine embassies abroad should step up on proactive measures. It should not wait until after OFWs resorted to untoward activities out of desperation.

The last time the country crafted an action programme on decent work was in 2002 which was good for three years. Since then, significant changes have taken place in the labor market.

In a world where labor is being traded in increasing sophistication, 2.2 M OFWs out there, half a million young Filipinos graduating every year, high unemployment rate in localities (Baguio City 17%), and 3.3 M children working, the agency cannot remain passive in it’s duties and backwards in it’s systems and tools.

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