Workers remind Marcos: Quality, better-paying jobs needed back home

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
Workers remind Marcos: Quality, better-paying jobs needed back home
Members of the League of Filipinos Students join Labor Day protests on May 1, 2023 to call for higher wages and lower prices.
Philstar.com / Kaycee Valmonte

MANILA, Philippines — Labor leaders called on President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., who is abroad partly to seek investments in the Philippines, to provide quality jobs that will not treat Filipinos as cheap labor. 

Marcos Jr. is on his 10th foreign trip since taking office last year. He arrived in Washington DC on May 1, Philippine time, and will be there until May 4.

In his pre-departure speech on Sunday, he said he will be in the US in hopes of "greater economic engagement" with its major trade partner.

According to data from the Office of the US Trade Representatives, US foreign direct investment in the Philippines was at $5.2 billion in 2020. "US direct investment in Philippines is led by manufacturing, professional, scientific, and technical services, and wholesale trade," the office also said on its website.

Labor lawyer Luke Espiritu, president of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, said that while foreign investments and business deals are always framed as a win because of the jobs these will create, he said the government does this by marketing Filipinos as "cheap, flexible, [and] precarious labor."

Workers have lodged petitions for wage hikes at regional wage boards as inflation — at 7.6% year-on-year in March — have driven up prices of basic goods.

Bills have also been filed in Congress to legislate wage increases. Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, chair of the Senate labor committee, has said that while he acknowledged the need for higher salaries, "we really have to strike a balance so workers and employers are not inconvenienced."

Labor export

Emer de Liña of Migrante Philippines said at the protest that the jobs that the investments are supposed to create have not materialized, prompting mant Filipinos to try their luck with working abroad. She said that even those who have jobs are having trouble earning enough to feed their families.

Remittances remain a key pillar of the country’s consumer economy. A Social Weather Systems survey conducted in December showed 75% of OFWs send their money back home, with remittances hitting a record $32.14 billion in 2022.

De Liña also criticized the Department of Migrant Workers, a department the government created to streamline processes for overseas Filipino workers, which she said only turned out to facilitate faster deployment of OFWs. 

This reinstated the cycle resulting from the country's undeclared labor export policy, she said.

Before taking on the job, Migrant Workers Secretary Susan "Toots" Ople addressed criticism of the decades of deployment abroad, saying "people go where the jobs are."

"That's why we're always calling for quality jobs in the Philippines," de Liña told Philstar.com, adding that a P750 wage increase for all is long overdue. Groups have been campaigning for what they call a living wage, or one that would allow a worker to earn enough for a decent life.

The government measures job quality by looking at underemployment — or the proportion of workers looking for more work or for longer work hours — and the number of people looking for lower-paying jobs that are considered "low skill" or "unskilled".

In his first Labor Day message, Marcos assured the public "that this administration is working conscientiously to provide opportunities that will uplift the living and social conditions of our workers and their families."

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