Statistically Speaking

Asia Conference 2011I’m a lousy researcher and I overcome my inadequacy by skipping matters I have to research deeply. Well, I’m an amateur blogger so what the hell, and if Russell Brand can get away with it, so can I.

I have looked at the stats. I see them, but why am I finding them so difficult to fully believe. Now, all I have to go on is my instinct and that’s hardly scientific I know, but I’m struggling to believe 7.5% unemployment rate and 19.3% underemployment. I’m not saying they are rigged exactly, but I do at the very least find 7.5% to be surprising. The interesting figure is the 19.3% underemployment rate. Does that mean the many I know that are working for 150 peso a day in the capital, and as low as 100 peso a day in the provinces are part of that figure? The word underemployed I took to mean part time or seasonal but apparently not.

My unscientific disbelief of these figures is just an impression. My doubts are fuelled because they are collated by using surveys. It maybe nobody’s fault, as in the Philippines, I can’t think of a better way with so much undeclared information with many individuals here. Many people here have jobs but are off the system and indeed have no legal rights and no benefits such as SSS, Philhealth, and Pag-ibig contributions from the employer on their behalf among other requirements. This also means there is no real way of monitoring this sector so God only knows what the actual figures may be. I won’t even bother to explain the 13th month pay, a mandatory requirement going back as far as 1975. Needless to say the undocumented workforce does not have these rights simply because they are not on the system.

Unintentionally though, the fact that it would appear that these figures are compiled largely through a survey means it clouds the issue. Do they wander into the squatter areas and ask questions or is it at the mall? I think it’s fair to say that the figures would vary hugely between the two locations.

I’m only guessing and I’m far from sure, but how does this survey work? Is it “excuse me sir/madam, are you in work”? Next question,” is it an actual job where you get full entitlements”? I doubt the second question somehow, and I guess if they are working in a shoe shop for 150 peso days, then they are marked as working.

So what constitutes underemployed? Well I was confused by the term but I’m told it means working in jobs they are overqualified for. Does that count those on temporary contracts where they used to often be routinely fired after which another bunch can be employed without the full rights of a normal regular employee? The government is trying to address such issues with rule changes but it’s a confusing picture and actual figures would be near impossible to collate. The figures lose some of their meaning when you take all into consideration.

Well, the unscientific method of using my eyes and ears is all I have and I won’t pretend to know better than what the stats tell me. I did wonder for a while how they put these figures together and on discovering its survey based, it only served to increase my bewilderment about the figures. This is not accusing, I’m more saying the nature of a survey has its weaknesses and accuracy is not something we can overly rely upon.

I base it on that I meet so many unemployed people. It certainly feels like 7.5% could be understating it. In my experience of people I have spoken with, I would say that so many of them are working well below minimum wage and are often not recorded on the system.

To the credit of the government, a framework is in place to protect certain sectors from exploitation. Minimum wage is supposed to be enforced generally and has been in place for many years before this administration came to power. For household workers of which there are many, they have introduced the Kasambahay law, a particularly exploited sector traditionally. Does it solve the problems of exploited household workers? Well in many cases, no but it is well meaning and putting down a framework and implementing rules is a start.

yayaIt’s tempting for someone not here to think it’s down to a miserable and mean rich underpaying servants but that’s not really it. The most exploited household workers are employed by what I call working class people (middle class to Americans and Filipinos). A domestic worker comes so cheaply, they can afford one. They usually come from the poorest regions and despite the incredibly poor pay, they settle for around 1000 peso a week, they get a bed and food but you work as and when they need them which could be a very, very long day.

The good news is that it is now in place in which it states in the National Capital Region, they should have a minimum of 2,500 pesos, in chartered cities and first class municipalities, 2000 pesos, and 1500 pesos elsewhere along with full benefits of SSS, Philhealth, and Pag-ibig. I have no doubts as to the good intentions but it does not always work in practice. Many domestic workers come from poor provinces and are hardly in any position to demand their rights. The end result would most likely mean they lose a job even if underpaid, it’s a job and damned near impossible to find another. So they simply stay quiet and carry on working for the 1000 pesos a week with no rights or protection.

I know the popular call from those who do not understand the makeup of the Philippines is to say that minimum wage is a must and should be strictly enforced. I understand that sentiment and on paper, it sounds easy. But introducing such laws can have another not thought of side for these people at the bottom of the pile. It simply means they go from a bad job to no job. Working class households employ them because they can afford them. Apply the law, and then they simply have to let them go as it is beyond their budget.

So what am I to make of stats and laws that are well intended? For a multitude of reasons, they cannot simply end the problem of exploited workers. It’s as simple as a bad job is better than no job and the cycle goes on. I’m sure over time the issue will be addressed again and improvements made to the existing laws. I’m sure everyone is entitled to a decent living wage, but it’s never that simple.

So again, I’m going to rely more on my instinct than official stats. I do not believe that such figures are manipulated but I am saying that I think sometimes we have to take them with a pinch of salt. I will stick to my guide of judging improvement when it’s noticeable to the eye. I’m not really seeing that as yet. I believe they are trying, the good intentions I do not doubt. But still a long way to go with what is as always something which can never be as simple as it sounds.

To me, it looks like a lot more than 7.5% unemployed. I still know many household workers on 1000 pesos a week. A start has been made to try and improve these people’s lives, which is good. I hope as conditions improve over time, it is not at the expense of others losing jobs because of it, but I think it’s somewhat inevitable.

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Filed under Culture, Impressions, Manila, Philippines

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