Is the BPO sector unsafe for girls?

The Curse of Work (Part II)

Women earn less than men and shoulder the multiple burdens of family, household and wage labor: a tobacco seller in Manila. © Lilli Breininger

This is the second part of the article "The Curse of Work" (this goes to Part I).

Not enough to live on despite work

Unemployment has nothing to do with a lack of education. On the contrary: while only 20 percent of all school beginners go to college, 40 percent of the unemployed have attended college. And while only 10.6 percent of all school-leavers graduate from college, 16 percent of the unemployed do.

In societies with many poor and inadequate social security, unemployment statistics have only limited informative value. Since there is something like unemployment insurance only for public employees in the Philippines, the unemployed who cannot fall back on their own or family reserves have to look for a new job right away. A more meaningful number is therefore that of the underemployed, i.e. the working poorwho do not have enough to live on despite work. That number was 19.2 percent at the beginning of 2018. If, in addition to the unemployment rate, one adds the number of migrant workers (ten million), like the IBON research institute, one arrives at an “employment shortage rate” of almost 50 percent.

Even those who are "properly employed" often still have to work on the side (moonlightning) pursue. The poor are poor not because they have no work (they actually have too much work), but because they work for low wages. Since a single activity usually does not yield enough, you have to do a lot at once. Money income is only part of theirs hanapbuhay (Subsistence). Self-sufficiency (own chickens or vegetable growing), remittances from related migrant workers and other forms of reciprocity and redistribution among each other play a far greater role than in Europe. "Isang kahig, isang tuka“(One scratch here, one pick there) is what this survival strategy is called on Tagalog.

employmentMore detailsMonthly income (in peso)
Jeepney driver (without own jeepney)works 10-12 hours a day8.000-12.000
Security guardsmany work 7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day8.000
Salesperson, waiter and factory workersimple activities5.000-10.000
Teacherin the province / in the city10.000-25.000
NurseNewcomers / regular workers in Manila10.000-16.000
Architects and engineersJob starters / self-employed12.000-60.000
Carpenterself-employed (sometimes without an order)7.000 – 11.000
Plantation workerson export-oriented plantations, six-day week4.500
Street vendorirregular work, up to 12 hours a day5,000-7,000 (in Manila)
Household Worker / Nanny (yaya)52-66 hours per week2,500-4,000 plus board and lodging

Source: own research, Ministry of Labor, etc.

At the same time, however, there is also a shortage of skilled workers: companies complain about inadequately technically qualified academics and skilled workers. And the call center industry is desperately looking for employees who can speak fluent English. Only a minority of job seekers have these qualifications. The industry can therefore not even fill every second vacancy. The Management Association of the Philippines criticized in 2010 that four in ten graduates were not hired because they lacked “soft” competencies, such as critical thinking, initiative or effective communication skills (Philippine Star, 1.11.2010).

The informal sector

According to the World Bank, 75 percent of all jobs are informal - in cities it is still 66 percent. The World Bank takes into account all those jobs that are without an employment contract, lack social security and where there is no protection against dismissal.

In the cities you can meet the "self-employed" who use one of the countless canteens (eateries) or mom and pop shops (sari-sari stores) and can be found on every street corner. For a third of poor households in Metro Manila, home work (manufacturing of shoes, clothes or furniture, services such as washing and childcare) is according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) a significant source of income. There are countless craft businesses of all stripes. There is hardly a sidewalk that is not lined with street vendors. Often it is children who sell flowers, sweets, cigarettes or newspapers to and on the street for a few centavos or poke around for useful items in the garbage dumps. Lots of people try to keep themselves afloat by doing odd jobs. But the more than 150,000 jeepney drivers in the country have no social security and an inconsistent income.

However, there are large differences in income in the informal sector: while shopkeepers often have a bearable income, this applies less to their employees and not at all to the numerous “open-air workers”. There are said to be four million street vendors across the country - some of them full-time, some only in the evening to earn a little extra income. More than four million “helping” family members work in agriculture and the informal sector. There are around seven to nine million homeworkers. Since informal workers usually (have to) work several jobs - apart from reproductive work, which is almost exclusively done by women - double counting is likely. Lots of people try to keep themselves afloat by doing odd jobs. For most of these people, income is insecure and can change from day to day or month to month. Because of its “hidden” nature, there are no official surveys, but the government estimates that the informal sector generates around 30 percent of gross domestic product.

There is a correlation between the formal and informal sectors: people who lose their regular employment are forced to do odd jobs or small businesses to ensure their survival. Income in the informal sector is lower and working hours are longer. Because the sector is more labor-intensive in production, it is overall less productive than the more capital-intensive formal sector. As a rule, informal workers cannot make large investments either, as their housing situation is precarious. The place where they live and often also produce is mostly land that does not belong to them and they have to expect evictions. The working conditions tend to make people sick and are more dangerous. Employment fl uctuates more, is short-term and less regulated, it only exists “just-in-time”. Since informal labor is also cheaper, regular jobs are often converted into precarious ones. At the same time, the informal workers serve as a reserve army that the formal economy falls back on as soon as regular work is needed again. Informal workers are therefore also affected differently by poverty and insecurity. The Institute for Church and Social Issues (ICSI) differentiates between the ultra-poor, the working poor, the self-employed poor, poor entrepreneurs and a precarious middle class (ICSI: Managing Insecurity, Manila, 2000).

A Filipino family makes pearl jewelry © Lilli Breininger

And everything is getting more and more expensive ...

Real wages have barely kept pace with inflation in recent years. The economic growth under Aquino passed most of the people by. The 9,820 Pesos that you earn monthly when you receive the minimum wage in Manila are just enough to bring enough food to the table for a family of six. The research institute IBON therefore assumes that with the daily minimum wage of 491 Pesos, which one receives in Metro Manila and the surrounding area, only 44 percent of the basic needs of a (six-person) family can be covered there (in 2001 it was 52 percent). A monthly wage for living, on the other hand, would be 22,000 pesos. Even if both parents work full-time and they actually earn the minimum wage, this is still not enough to make a living. Pinagkakakitaan (Additional earning opportunities) or rackets (Casual work) is a must for many in order to be able to “muddle through”.

The national wage council has only increased the minimum wage every few years by around 10 to 20 pesos in recent years, an amount that has by no means made up for the loss of purchasing power. Trade unions are therefore calling for a substantial increase in the minimum wage, while employers and economists warn that this would lead to price spirals and layoffs, which would undo the wage increases. According to information from the Ministry of Finance, however, labor productivity increased by 50 percent between 2011 and 2016, while real wages stagnated (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3.3.2018).

However, it cannot be denied that the high work intensity in the Philippines can only be maintained through low wages (there are several employees behind every counter, and middle-class households can also afford several household employees - Mike Wootton goes to the Manila Times of September 22nd, 2010 assumes that nationwide there are only "real jobs" for 30 percent of the population). In addition, only the regular employees benefit from increases in the minimum wage anyway - that is, the minority of all employed people.

Home work - a bad alternative

For those who cannot find adequate employment in the labor market, only home work is left. Women in particular do manual work in their own home - also because, despite the legal prohibition, women over 30 are rarely employed, especially if they are no longer single. Job advertisements are still often aimed explicitly at single and young women (“female, 18-25, single, pleasant appearance”). Many homeworkers work in factories. The women work on their own account and do not even have to be dismissed when there are no more jobs. They are paid per piece and their wages are well below what regular employees earn.

Despite all the disadvantages, jobs in industry remain in great demand. Even if most of them there "endo“If you are employed for less than six months, that is even better for you than not having a job at all, being a homeworker or staying in the country. The wages in the metropolitan areas are a lot higher than in the countryside - even if the cost of living here is also a lot higher.


The article (edited for the Southeast Asia) comes from the following new publication:

Rainer Werning / Jörg Schwieger (eds.), Handbook Philippines. Society-Politics-Economy-Culture. 6th, updated and expanded edition, Berlin, Verlag regiospectra, February 2019. ISBN 978-3-94477-2906-7


For further reading:

The author

Dr. Niklas Reese taught Southeast Asian Studies in Passau and Bonn. As a long-time employee of the philippinenbüro e.V., he was temporarily its managing director and coordinated the project "Social Consequences of Globalization" of the Asia House. He is an alumnus of the Our Lady of Fatima Academy in Davao City and (together with Judith Welkmann) co-editor of the book The Echo of Migration: How Foreign Migration Changes Societies in the Global South, published by Horlemann Verlag in 2010.

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