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
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
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.