Overwork in a weak job market
There is a sense of irony in the resolution filed recently by Sen. Grace Poe calling for an investigation in the dramatic rise in the number of overworked Filipinos in the last 20 years.
Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, Poe said there were over eight million overworked Filipinos in 2015 in primary jobs, representing a 41.2-percent or 2.4 million increase, from 5.7 million in 1995. She said too much work could result in serious health problems that could lead to death.
In Japan, death caused by stress from overwork, usually manifested in a heart attack or stroke, is called karoshi. The pressure also leads to depression and, if not properly addressed, suicide by overachieving Japanese employees.
The increase in the number of Filipinos who work beyond normal working hours is a grotesque contrast to the decrease in gainful employment in the country.
According to the National Economic and Development Authority, in January 2017, the unemployment rate rose to 6.6 percent, up from the 5.7 percent recorded for the same month last year.
Due to the unemployment spike, the number of employed Filipinos dropped from 94.3 percent last year to 93.4 percent in January 2017. Also, unemployment among the youth went up by 15.6 percent while the rate for adults rose to 4.8 percent.
If it’s any consolation, underemployment went down from last year’s 19.7 percent to 16.3 percent this year.
There is underemployment when a person who is already employed wants to do more but is unable to do so for reasons not attributable to him, or he works in a job that does not fit or is below his academic qualifications or training.
In an economy where people who are willing and able to work can find jobs that match their qualifications, overtime work is the exception rather than the rule.
When a sufficient number of qualified personnel are in place, the employer is not obliged to require his staff to give up time for themselves to meet certain business objectives unless compelled to do so by natural calamities or events beyond their control.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way things are in our country. Here, overtime work is more of a personal choice borne out of necessity rather than a matter of compulsion by the employer.
Under normal circumstances, an employee who is properly compensated would prefer to enjoy his evenings, days-off or weekends as “me” time or opportunities to relax and bond with family and friends.
Only workaholics or loners find bliss inside their offices or work premises while the rest of their colleagues are recharging at home or in the company of their loved ones.
The reality on the ground is, many Filipinos are constrained to accept (or solicit) overtime work to augment their income. The overtime pay is a much-needed supplement to regular wages or salaries.
The motivation of working beyond standard hours is no different from that which drives many of our countrymen to seek employment abroad.
In exchange for the additional income that would put more food on the table, ensure quality education for their children and provide for comfortable living conditions, OFWs opted to sacrifice the company of their families and endure the loneliness of living in a foreign country.
Except for the foreign scenario, that is exactly the same situation that many Filipinos working in the country find themselves in. They work long hours and, in the process, sacrifice their health because they have to, not because they want to.
For people who are financially well-off, it is easy to say there should be work-life balance and that employers should obey the constitutional mandate of maintaining “just and humane work conditions.”
Unfortunately, not all Filipino employees are like senators and congressmen who receive fat salaries and allowances, work only four days a week, go on long breaks and travel abroad at the expense of the taxpayers.
A Senate inquiry into a matter of common sense will only be a waste of time, money and effort.
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