Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Restricting skilled labor migration is absurd!

SUMMARY: “Labor is just like capital in a free market place. Investors will take their money to where it will get the best return. Workers will take their skill to where it will get the greatest reward… Thus the proposal that government ought to ban or in any way restrict the migration of aviators and aircraft mechanics is simply absurd and ridiculous,” says former Senator Ernesto Herrera. Please read the entire post.

It’s nice to know former senator Ernesto Herrera has taken the cudgels for overseas Filipino workers who are likely to be hit by the proposed travel ban or moratorium on skilled Filipino workers. In the recent employment summit, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration are contemplating of said measures supposedly in the name of “national interest” and “public welfare.” Senator Herrera calls these proposed policy “ridiculous” stressing that government “cannot effectively prevent Filipino pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers from leaving the country, should they decide to seek greener pastures abroad.”

Could the government restrict or control workers deployment overseas? The government thinks it could. Could the government prevent Henry Sy or Lucio Tan from bringing out their money for some investments in China or elsewhere in the name of national security or public welfare? Definitely not. What the government bureaucrats are contemplating therefore is simply another form of double standard. It’s unfair and unjust.

Would the migration of labor not kill the local companies that need these skills? Of course not.

ICTSI example
Take the case of the International Container Terminal Services, Inc (ICTSI), a Filipino global ports management company. ICTSI operates a lot of ports here in the Philippines and abroad, specifically international container terminals in Suape, Brazil; Port of Gdynia in Poland; Naha in Okinawa (Japan); and Madagascar. Because of ICTSI’s global reach and apparent success in port operations, it has taken the attention of “poachers” who are on the lookout for skilled workers particularly in areas of port management, operations, and administration; port development and construction; and port planning and programming.

Dubai World Ports, one of the largest port operators in the world based in the United Arab Emirates, practically knocks on the doors of ICTSI to pirate its employees. The numbers of employees being “raided” each year could sometimes reach 30, many of them highly skilled gantry crane operators. Captain Francis Andrews, ICTSI’s senior vice president and operations manager of the Manila International Container Terminal, says this “raiding” of ICTSI skilled staff each year gives them problems but it doesn’t disrupt their operations. This is because, he explained, its employees are multi-skilled; the company could easily redeploy them to other functions when the need arises. Also, the company keeps on training more people each year in anticipation of rising demand for skilled operators of port handling equipment worldwide. Besides continuous in-house training, ICTSI also provides productivity incentives for container handling equipment operators so that their employees get more money as their efficiencies improve. Families of these workers are also given attractive incentives including medical and dental benefits. Thus given the choice between working abroad and staying with the company, many of its staff would rather not leave for the added incentive of being with the family and being able to watch the kids grow.

A thousand ways to retain staff
There are a thousand and one ways to retain staff without resorting to coercive measures. The fear that only journalists will remain in this country if we open the floodgates to overseas jobs is understandable. The latest statistics say the current number mining engineers, geologists, and geodetic engineers would not be enough meet the demand for these skills in the next four years. The Dole blamed low labor supply on few tertiary schools offering said discipline and even fewer students who passed the board examinations. The reason for this trend is that in the last several decades, mining (prior to the Mining Act of 1995) were stagnant for lack of fresh investments. It’s only after the Supreme Court declared the constitutionality of the Mining Act that allows 100 foreign equity ownership (through the financial and technical assistance agreement) when the mining industry has started to hire more skilled professionals. Give it a few more years and soon smart kids will flock into this profession.

Filipino worker as No. 1
Ask Professor Eduardo Morato of the Asian Institute of Management about skilled labor migration and he will tell you that the real problem lies with local capitalists. Citing a recent survey by AIM in tandem with the Switzerland-based Institute of Management Development, Morato said Filipinos is Number 1 in the world in terms of skill and competence. Yet Morato complains that local business owners do not know how to motivate their employees. Their idea of a good employee is someone who works hard, is meek as a lamb, and gets slave wages. That’s the reason why headhunters and multinationals are always on the lookout for skilled Philippine professionals whom they could pirate. They know that if they could put in a better working environment, the Filipino professional would always excel and contribute a lot to the company.

Moral lesson? Local employers and the government should change their mindsets. They should stop looking at the skilled Filipino working class as “surplus” to be employed at the lowest price. They should start looking at the Filipino working class as an asset to the country, people whose skills are appreciated and valued for the good of the country.


Anonymous said...

I thought the government policy was labor as an export commodity!

Anyway, the government is looking at the wrong way; the best way to address this problem is to make investing in the country attractive, so that labor migration will be lessened. Also, do something so that working here is attractive.

taoharu said...

There's an article in Reader's Digest (December 2005) entitled "America's Brain Drain". It says that one of the primary attraction of China and India in getting foreign investments is its large pool of technically educated workforce. It says that industries locate where the skills are. China, India, and most of Asia are producing lots of engineers and technicians. America is not producing fast enough and industries cannot expand for lack of available skills. Hence, many American industries are moving to Asia where the skills are. The opportunity is in producing more engineers and technicians to invite industries to our country.

Try to get a copy of that article "Readers Digest December 2005 entitled America's Brain Drain written by Kathryn Wallace."

Dave Llorito said...

Arbet: yes, labor export is supposedly pillar of the country's economic policy. but that was before our local oligopolists has started to feel the pain of labor export migration. this is a semi-feudal country arbet; not really a capitalist one. wealth creation is through rent-seeking or access to the resources of the state. that explains the behavior of our so-called "capitalists". the ordinary guys, when they are in trouble, runs to their relatives or run abroad. our economic elite, when they have problems, they run to the State for protection, support, for "incentives." its an unfair world.

Dave Llorito said...

taoharu: expanding science and tech capability is indeed the key. but you cant force people to take any course where they see less opportunities. the solution really there is to allow interaction of labor supply and demand. when its clear that science and tech pays and pays a lot, smart kids will simply flock to it. of course, this should be complimented by higher investments in primary and secondary education.

Dave Llorito said...

in the age of globalization, "choice" is also a significant factor in labor migration. and i would rather that people exercise their choice because ultimately, expansion of choice is the essence of development. there are economic benefits as well as social costs to overseas employment but people factor thoses benefits and costs into their calculations and make their own decisions. the state has no business intervening in those decisions especially that the government doesnt pay for tuition. but there are several ways to retaining as staff as shown by the example of ICTSI.