Sunday, 24 February 2008

High labor productivity equals human dignity
Saturday, February 23, 2008

An International Labor Organization (ILO) report released last September placed Philippine labor productivity—the output per person employed—at the low end of the Southeast Asian countries.

The report, “Key Indicators of the Labor Market,” said that in US dollar terms labor productivity in the country stands at US$7,271 per person employed, lower than neighboring market economies such as Singapore, US$47,975; Malaysia, US$22,112; Thailand, US$13,915 and Indonesia, US$9,022.

But the country’s labor productivity is higher than state-led economies, such as Vietnam, US$4,809; Myanmar, US$4,541 and Cambodia, US$2,853.

It’s still the United States that leads the world in labor productivity.

Labor productivity in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, the ILO said, “was stagnant and much slower than other regions” with an average annual increase of only 1.6 percent between 1996 and 2006. “Workers in the region produced only a seventh of their developed economy counterparts,” the ILO said.

East Asia’s workers, by comparison, produce twice as much as they did 10 years ago. Theirs is the world’s highest productivity increase.

A 2006 survey of the Asian Development Bank found the Philippines to be number 11 in labor productivity among 13 selected Asian countries. We were just a few dollars higher than Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Philippines has a lot of catching up to do, and the stark figures bear this out. But we must not assign the blame to others—the statisticians, the IMF-World Bank for its structural adjustment loans, the government for being corrupt and insensitive to the workers or the workers themselves for being powerless or unwilling to improve themselves more rigorously than other peoples of the region.

Low wages—which means underpayment of labor—has always been a characteristic of underdevelopment. Worse than unemployment, underpayment further is a sign of exploitation.
No wonder Filipino college graduates and professionals go abroad if they can to earn higher wages.

Many Filipinos are only able to keep their families fed, clothed and the children schooled by working away from their families. They keep the Republic afloat and suffer from diminished purchasing power with the high peso to dollar rate.

The unabated exodus of Filipino talents and skills and the social costs of the OFW phenomenon are top concerns of the Department of Labor and Employment. It has adopted strategies to raise the productivity of Filipino labor.

Through the National Wages and Productivity Commission, it conducts labor education programs, specifically focused on productivity.

The 2008 Productivity Olympics is one such project. It was launched Thursday, February 21. It is a national competition among micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to find the best in two categories: people development and business excellence. Enterprises that have been in operation for at least three years by October 1 last year may join.

The project promotes worker awareness of the importance of consciously improving in productivity while promoting employer awareness of how to satisfy their workers with goodies in addition to better wages. It pushes the enterprises—their owners and managers and their workers—to strive to become more competitive.

Labor Secretary Arturo Brion says that the Productivity Olympics has helped in capacity building among the micro, small and medium enterprises in the industrial, services and agricultural sectors.

The companies that participate in the Olympics benefit by becoming more and more profitable. The workers benefit by getting better pay and, with their skills enhanced, finding better work opportunities abroad and get really much higher income.

The administration’s economic managers keep bragging of having sustained GDP growth all these seven years that Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been president. 2007 was the best year of the economy in 31 years. They must now, these being days of loud and growing expressions of disgust over the alleged corruption of high officials, pay more attention to the plight of the workers.

A happy population of workers can ensure peace and stability, which in turn will ensure that President Arroyo finishes her term in glory instead of opprobrium.

Helping the Filipino workers raise their labor productivity not only increases their worth in money. They also see themselves rise in dignity.

That makes them more disposed to growing also in civility and culture, making the Filipinos the bright and happy race God wants them to be.

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