Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Worse than Proclamation 1017: government contemplates restricting overseas deployment of workers from "critical industries"

After curtailing our basic rights of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press under Proclamation 1017, the Arroyo Administration is again contemplating about curving the people’s other basic rights including our rights to travel, to find gainful employment, and pursue our own happiness. For amidst the hysteria generated by the “State of Emergency,” no less than the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration—the agency tasked to look after the interest of overseas Filipino Workers—has announced On March 2 that the government is formulating a strategy of “determining critical skills” or an inventory of industries that are losing skilled labor because of overseas deployment. This is a terrible irony because overseas workers are supposedly the "new heroes" in this country.

Under this strategy, the government will determine local demand and supply and will “compel” a worker with an application for an overseas employment to submit a six-month notice to the employer before the POEA would process the applicant’s papers. The idea is that workers falling under critical skills should be "kept domestically" before they leave for abroad to allow the local market to make up for their loss. As reported by our reporter Cher Jimenez, the inventory will initially focus on aviation, nursing, and the teaching professions.

This proposed policy is alarming. Consider this: Supposing you are a nurse working long hours in a hospital earning P6,000 monthly. You want to send your kids to good schools so they won’t inherit your quasi-slavery and poverty. What are the options? Ask for a raise? Forget it. Work for outsourcing firms like call centers or medical transcription where you get P16,000 a month? Possible. Or work as a nurse in Europe where the pay is even higher? Why not?

Supposing you got an opportunity to work abroad and your would-be employers are asking you to report within three months otherwise they will hire someone else from Indonesia or India. You started processing the papers only to be told by a bureaucrat from POEA that you can’t leave within six months. There goes your dream of a better life for your family! Good opportunity knocks only once and some government functionary blew it. Of course, there would be thousands and thousands more whose dreams will be shattered because some government bureaucrats thought the industries they are slaving for are “critical.”

This proposed policy is counterproductive and should never be implemented.

For one, such restrictions will just become a means by which bureaucrats in government agencies dealing with overseas employment could extort bribes from labor migrants. They know that OFWs are desperate; the new deployment restrictions will only make them more desperate enough to cough up bribes. If they couldn’t pay their way out, OFWs might just leave through illegal means, thus making them vulnerable to abuse in foreign shores. Others—for lack of bribe money or out of fear of suffering the fates of undocumented migrant workers—might just leave nursing profession just the same out of frustration, and opt for a stint at medical transcription firms or call centers where the pays are double.

But what about the industries that will be affected once the workers left for foreign shores? Surely this is a valid concern but putting restrictions on people’s work mobility is the wrong way to go. This is because governments are lousy at determining labor supply and demand. Government bureaucrats could conduct an inventory of labor requirements at the industry level but such information is never adequate to represent the dynamics of labor supply and demand.

The best example of this is nursing. Every body, particularly owners of hospitals, now seems to believe that the country is experiencing a shortage in the supply of nurses. It turned that, based on POEA data, supply of nurses is 120 percent more than demand. The problem really is in the supply of nurses possessing specialized skills like those in intensive care units and operating rooms. The solution, therefore, is not restricting workers' mobility and choices; it’s is in providing adequate in-house training and better compensation. The hospitals could actually keep their staff by providing career paths for them.

The idea that “critical workers” should be "kept domestically" before they leave “to allow the local market to make up for their loss” is preposterous. In truth, such measures will only provide more distortions in the labor market, the reason why more workers are leaving in the first place. Instead, the best way to ensure adequate supply of skilled workers in certain industries is to allow the labor market to work. The government could only compliment this process through continuous workers training. Better yet, industries like aviation might as well provide in-house training and raise their staff’s pay commensurate to their skills acquired.

It’s not true that all skilled workers will leave our shores once you allow them all to leave anytime they want. In reality, higher demand for certain skills like nursing and airline pilots triggers higher incomes for these skills, assuming the government doesn’t intervene artificially. This situation in turn encourages more people to take these professions, thus raising supply of these skills. Based on empirical studies, most of these fresh graduates with skills are not going to leave for foreign shores because of several factors like improvement in local pay as competition for these skills abroad forces local employers to offer better employment packages; friction of distance, including difficulties of getting visas; and cultural factors like emotional attachment to families and love. In the end, it’s a win-win situation for the skilled worker and society as a whole.

Restrictions being contemplated by POEA violate Section 6 of the Bill of Rights. The law says “The liberty of abode and of changing the same within the limits prescribed by law shall not be impaired except upon lawful order of the court. Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health,…” In this globalized world, opportunities worldwide come and go; it’s immoral therefore for governments to put limits on people’s chances for a better life wherever on earth those good prospects are, especially if such governments could not provide decent work opportunities at home for their own citizens.

POEA’s proposal betrays a lack of understanding of development. For what is “development” but the expansion of people’s choices in life? In history, only authoritarian and communist countries are resorting to drastic measures such as putting limits on people’s mobility and job options. China in fact has abandoned such policies decades ago after Chairman Deng Xiaoping learned that “to get rich is glorious.” Why should the Philippines, a country that pretends to be democratic, even think about it?

Related posts

Don’t blame the nurses for the medical crisis

Dollar remittances and social paralysis

7 comments:

taoharu said...

I agree with you that this proposition is crazy. The industries that need the skills should pay the salaries needed to keep them. And the appropriate government response is to provide more training institutes so that supply can meet demand. Maybe, to reform the education department so that we produce more graduates with marketable skills. It's also high time that our bureaucrats dream global, think global, and act global. To gather global statistics and study the global demand for manpower. This is only appropriate with the Philippines being a global manpower supplier.

AnP said...

Instead of limiting people's options, shouldn't they think instead of HOW they can convince people NOT to leave?

Without Borders said...

taoharu: i totally agree with you sir. what is funny is that the one contemplating it are the same agenceis and people who are supposed to smooth out this process. personally, i believe overseas employment has its own downside socially, but the point here is about choices. the world is getting borderless and people should not be denied those options in life. as what novel price amartya sen said, development is all about providing and expanding peoples' choices in life economically, socially, and politically.

Without Borders said...

to anp: yes, that's the real point there. and convincing people not leave means providing the skilled people the respect that they need. i feel that local industries do not really have to pay top money to local skilled people equivalent to what is offered abroad for these industries to keep them. what is needed is a kind of employment package that are enough to afford them the dignity that they desire as highly skilled people.

taoharu said...

The bureaucrats, too, need re-education and re-training. They should shed their bordered mindset and adopt to the new reality of a borderless world. The Philippines is no longer the Island Philippines but the community of Filipinos all over the world. The Philippines is wherever the Filipinos are -- without borders.

Without Borders said...

"The Philippines is no longer the Island Philippines but the community of Filipinos all over the world. The Philippines is wherever the Filipinos are -- without borders." that's a nice observation. that's precisely one of the major thrusts of this blog; discussing the reality of filipinos living in a borderless world. but you really nailed it so well. thanks.

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