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A nation and her trapped underemployed workers

By CHELIN EMMANUELLE HERNANDEZ/The Filipino Connection

Maricel Velasco, 41, dips a thick ball of cotton with a bottle of nail polish remover, Seated above her Maricel was her client, whose creamy, toned legs she stretched out to Maricel’s lap. The client has her eyes and hands clutched on her iPhone 4, as Maricel dabs the acetone-soaked cotton on the woman’s toes with her brown, stubby fingers.

For half an hour, the woman did not move from her expensive, flowery furniture — so did Maricel, seated on a purple plastic stool. With her client, Maricel had her big and brown eyes glinted; her round, jolly face resembled the sun, framed by her dark hair in a tight bun.

Underemployment has been Maricel Velasco’s lifeline for over a decade now. Her home-based manicure and pedicure services have helped Velasco’s children stay in school.

This half-an-hour work routine by Velasco has been her full-time thing “for a long time”, a decade to be exact, she says. As of late, her home-serviced manicure and pedicure service nets Velasco P300 a day; Sundays are a hit, hauling for Maricel P500 or more.

At around the same period of time that Velasco has been part of what labor analysts refer to as “underemployed,” the number of this army of workers continues to grow —even to an all-time high of 8.546 million after the July 2012 round of the Labor Force Survey.

As of the January 2013 round of the LFS, announced last March (the same time economic managers trumpeted a 6.6 percent growth for 2012), there are some 7.934 million underemployed workers.

Being underemployed, says economist Dr. Fernando Aldaba of the Ateneo de Manila University, is a precarious situation. These workers do not have “good quality jobs” —jobs that are regular, with assured security of tenure, and provide a gainful wage, says the labor economist.

This lack of good quality jobs is a major reason there are more underemployed and more who are poor, Aldaba said, pointing to the strong links between underemployment and poverty (that even persists up to this current government of Benigno Simeon Aquino III).

So Velasco has been walking the underemployment tightrope as the breadwinner of a family that includes live-in partner Johnny (who’s unemployed) and seven children. She lives at a house owned by an extended family member here, with no light bulbs for the night, not even electric fans. “Paypay na lang, magtiisna lang (Make do with using a paper fan). I’m just glad I have somewhere to live and am not renting,” said the native of Sorsogon.

Upon moving to Manila, Velasco was once a domestic helper for a lawyer, then the former nursing student in Sorsogon learned tailoring at a vocational school upon the employer’s prodding. She nailed a first crack at a full-time job, at the lawyer-employer’s firm St. Raphael’s, that sells uniforms and goods at a Shoemart outlet. The shop, however, closed in 2000, forcing Maricel to work at a salon in Pasay City (a “pretty stable job” that pays her P12,000 monthly, she says).

But since her children were skipping classes at Epifanio High School, Maricel had to make the tough choice: she quit the salon.

Then being a home-service manicurist had been her thing, making her “handle my own time.”
“I don’t care anymore if I don’t earn much, and if I have to struggle for money,” Velasco said, in a low-toned voice. “I want (my children) to get better jobs than what I am doing.”

Not make them a part of the fifth of the country’s labor force who is underemployed (like Velasco), and the some seven percent who are unemployed. More so, becoming poor: recent poverty figures from the 2012 round of the triennial Family Income and Expenditures Survey showed that the 2012 poverty levels remained unchanged with 2006 levels.

The current tack of the government is what Aldaba refers to as “inclusive growth,” hoping that this generates more quality jobs —especially through manufacturing. Yet recently, on Labor Day, President Aquino thumbed down appeals by labor groups for a wage hike and for tax breaks for minimum wage earners (in 2012, the Department of Labor and Employment has been implementing a two-tiered wage increase scheme across the regions).

So the daily ray of hope in Velasco’s walking of the underemployment tightrope? She sets aside either a P20 or a P50 bill everyday. “Basta may maitabi (For as I long as I save),” she says, after finishing her client that Sunday —and heading off to the next.

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