When I began building my business, naturally, I would be exposed more to the Philippines, its beautiful lands and culture. I have had the pleasure of also getting to know Filipinos personally, not just through the people I work with, but with those I get to interact with on a daily basis.
And of course, it’s not only the good side that I get to see. In fact, the struggles that I see many Filipinos face have been one of the primary driving forces behind me establishing AwayTeam. My heart hurts at the realities that Filipinos, particularly mothers, had to face and endure just to provide for their families.
Lately, the local Philippine media has also been filled with horrific stories about employment policies and unsafe working conditions. These reminded me of how privileged I am to be where I am today, and have given me even more fuel to let others know that there are better alternative work opportunities that let you stay with your loved ones.
*Disclaimer though, I am in no way saying that I fully relate to these issues or know better than those who are actually going through them.
I am personally very drawn to the plight of the OFWs (Overseas Filipino workers), as Icee who is now AwayTeam’s Chief Financial Officer, was on her way out of the country before we hired her full-time. Millions of Filipinos leave their homes and find employment elsewhere. Not only is this is a hard enough situation to face, but sometimes they even have to endure unfair foreign employment practices.
This was brought to light again when a Kuwait-based beauty blogger posted a video on Instagram, where she ranted about the new laws that she had to follow with regards to her Filipina maid. Because of changes to the country’s kafala sponsorship system, she is now required to relinquish possession of her worker’s passport and give her a day off in a week; with the latter she had found to be rather appalling.
The blogger heavily disagreed to this law, which has led to many viewers calling her out for her ‘racist’ remarks. Many human rights groups and organizations have also regarded this as modern slavery.
This issue has also brought to light the many dangers OFWs have to go through because of these labor laws and employment conditions.
NutriAsia Inc. is a company that manufactures well-known condiments and food sauces that are widely used in a majority of Filipino households. In June, many workers have come out to protest against the unfair and harsh conditions they were working under.
Being paid less than P380 each day (about AUD10), they are required to work 12 to 16-hour shifts. Those who work in the bottling and packing plants have to deal with temperatures reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They handle products that are hotter than 200 degrees Fahrenheit causing bone injuries and second-degree burns.
Some of the workers have requested for safety gear, but the company either does not provide any, or gives substandard equipment to only a few. They are even asked to pay for these items, and some don’t get reimbursed at all.
This is the norm for the estimated 1,400 contractual workers in the company, which has led many of them to picket and be on strike until changes are done.
Contractualization is a pretty common practice in the Philippines, especially in large businesses. Illegal contracting (also known as “Endo” or “end of contract”) is very rampant form of contractualization. Here, workers are only employed for up to five months so companies don’t need to turn them into regular employees, as mandated by the Labor Code, therefore not providing them the benefits that they are obligated to.
Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) is one that was found to implement such practices. Despite the president signing an executive order to end this unethical practice and prodding from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the telecommunications company laid off some 8,000 of its contractual employees instead.
Stories of the abrupt termination of contracts, some providing core business operations to PLDT for decades, have surfaced. Many have served the company for most of their lives, but were never made into regular staff.
These stories, and the countless others that have yet to be given a voice, while tragic and unfortunate, serve as constant reminders of the ‘why’ behind AwayTeam. While I know we are not going to solve every problem brought about by unethical employment practices, I would like to believe that we are slowly making a difference in the lives of those we are engaging with right now.
I look forward to the day when more and more Filipinos discover the beauty of online work, and how they don’t need to endure and struggle in the way that they think they should.