Unemployment harder for women but all workers suffering under PNoy’s watch

By
March 09 2012
WOMAN POWER.  Racquel Gallemba (left), a field worker at a palm oil plantation in Agusan Sur, has been working since she was a child.  As a mother, she divides a can of sardines into two meals in order to make ends meet and feed her family of four.  (davaotoday.com photo by Medel V. Hernani)

WOMAN POWER. Racquel Gallemba (left), a field worker at a palm oil plantation in Agusan Sur, has been working since she was a child. As a mother, she divides a can of sardines into two meals in order to make ends meet and feed her family of four. (davaotoday.com photo by Medel V. Hernani)

High unemployment rates are especially higher on women because they are seen as a mere “secondary labor force.”  Marginalization of women workers is the reason why they are forced to take high risk jobs like becoming domestic helpers even in war-torn countries.

By CJ KUIZON
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — There has been no change in the deplorable conditions of Filipino workers — both men and women — under the administration of Benigno ‘PNoy’ Aquino III.

During the Mindanao leg of the Public Hearing for House Bill 375 (HB 375) or the bill for a ‘P125 increase across the board, nationwide,’ many women workers voiced out their pitiful conditions.

Raquel Gallemba, a worker in a palm oil plantation in Agusan Sur, opened her testimony by saying that she had prayed to God before she came to the Public Hearing because she feared that her action would leave her jobless and her family starving.  Not that her family wasn’t already in dire straits.  She had two children and she tearfully recounted how it was her practice to divide the contents of one can of sardines into two meals.

Rep. Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela Women’s Party-list (GWP), co-author of HB 375, says the miserable situation of workers stems from the continuation of the policy of labor flexibilization.  De Jesus explains that the law allows companies to use different schemes in order to save itself from hiring regular workers.

Gallemba, for example, testified that she and her husband earned PHP 150 (USD 3.51) per day even though she had been working in the palm oil plantations since she was a child and her husband had also been a casual worker for more than two decades.

“Talagang yung mahihirap hanggang dito na lang kami?  Talagang yung mga casual wala bang karapatan kumain ng maayos na pagkain?  Palagi na lang bang tuyo?  Palagi na lang bang sardinas? (Do we have to bear this kind of life?  Don’t we, casual workers, have the right to eat decent food?  Do we always have to make do with dried fish and sardines?)” Gallemba asked.

She said she came to the public hearing of HB 375 not just for her family but for the plight of her co-workers — the more than 200 casual workers — who are counting on the government to increase their salaries.

In an interview, GWP’s de Jesus said that contractualization was also the norm in the retail industry, where the most popular scheme companies used was the one where they terminate their employees after five months because the law says workers have to be made regular after six.

De Jesus says that while this policy affects both men and women, she can speak about women working in the retail industry.  During the time of former President Joseph Estrada, Gabriela did a study on the workers of Shoemart (SM), the largest mall operator in the Philippines.  De Jesus says that SM reflects the system of the rest of the retail industry, companies which hire mostly women and keep them as contractual workers only.

She said Gabriela also saw in their studies how companies would take it one step further and conduct pregnancy tests and virginity tests to ensure that the women are not pregnant and will not likely become pregnant during the five months they are employed and will not be qualified for maternity benefits.

This pregnancy test is also conducted in the banana plantations that pepper Southern Mindanao, says Emma Ricaforte, executive director of the labor-focused group Nonoy Librado Development Foundation.

Ricaforte says these tests are required by the chief of plantations’ human resource divisions — these chiefs being usually men.  She said the companies claim they just don’t want to expose pregnant women to the chemicals which may be harmful to unborn children. However, she believes that companies simply do not want to hire pregnant women because it would force companies to give additional benefits and facilities like breastfeeding rooms.

Ricaforte says marginalization of women is also present in ports where jobs are limited and where women are sometimes forced to prostitute themselves to earn extra income.  She adds that even in banks, women are limited to being tellers and do not obtain high positions.

De Jesus also said the situation of women workers is becoming graver under PNoy’s administration because there is no change in the unemployment situation.

The Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics reported in January that the number of jobless Filipinos was at 2.814 million in 2011.  This was 7 percent of the 40 million labor force.

De Jesus said high unemployment rates are especially higher on women because they are seen as a mere “secondary labor force.”  She says this marginalization of women workers is the reason why they are forced to take high risk jobs like becoming domestic helpers even in war-torn countries.

“Women are forced to go abroad despite the aggression, the internal or external turmoil going on in these countries,” de Jesus said.  “There are just so many countries with conflict and the women are forced to go back home anyway,” she added.

The GWP solon said people had to merely watch television to see stories of domestic workers — women — coming home every week.  ”Can you imagine ano na naman sila pagdating (What they’ll become when they arrive)?”

She said this phenomenon of women coming home because of political unrest in the countries they worked in was a problem.  She challenged PNoy who she said had been in office for some 700 days to address this worsening problem of the increasing number of unemployed women.

De Jesus says the problem is systemic and hasn’t changed because the present administration has not changed it.  She added the people’s expectations were set when PNoy campaigned under the banner of ‘Daang Matuwid.’  The people expected that he would change the policies — economic and political policies — because that’s key.”

The GWP solon said the situation would not be changed simply with a change in leadership.  ”Ang challenge doon sa leader na hahawak talaga ng pamunuan dapat may political will ang papakinggan niya talaga yuong mamayan hindi yung dikta.  Kasi as we see it pinagpapatuloy lang niya yung policies ng past administrations. (The challenge for the leader is to have the political will to truly listen to the people and not to the ‘dictates.’  Because, as we see it, he is merely continuing the policies of the past administrations.)”  (CJ Kuizon/davaotoday.com)

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