This is my column today.
Labor Day is happening in a few weeks’ time. And because we are a country that unfortunately has this habit of making grand, dramatic— sometimes, token—actions to coincide with special occasions instead of putting in place programs that are sustainable and that produce lasting results, government has been quite busy putting together its annual package for the country’s labor force this year. Without doubt, Labor and Employment Secretary Marianito Roque has the most difficult job in the country today.
In better times, Labor Day was marked by announcements of across-the-board wage increases, new benefits, and other supposed good news for the millions of work drones in this country. I say supposed because these announcements of manna from heaven usually translated into bad news for industry who ended up paying for government’s or our legislators’ shortsightedness. I’ve said this before and I will say this again here: Mandated wage increases are counter-productive because wages should be linked to productivity and profitability. Industries and companies that can afford to give more should do so. Those who have not been able to afford and still cannot afford minimum wages should not be saddled with even more overhead expense.
Wage increases are out of the question in these difficult times. So what will Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gift the labor sector with on May 1? Traditions are hard to break and we have to go through the motions of reassuring our labor force that we still have their best interest at heart so there has got to be something, anything.
So this year, there is Jobapalooza.
I know. Naming a job fair after a kissing festival saddles it with unnecessary baggage. But I reckon the organizers were going for a trendier packaging that appeals to the current generation, so let’s not quibble with names.
Labor Day Tayo Na! Trabaho Na! Jobapalooza 09, according to the Department of Labor and Employment, is the biggest job fair in the country. It aims to make available hundreds of thousands of local and overseas employment to displaced workers and new graduates. What’s more, it’s supposed to happen simultaneously in 16 regions nationwide on May 1. The main fair will be held at the Mall of Asia with no less than the President in attendance.
The job fair is a step in the right direction. It’s time we drumbeat the fact that it’s not all gloom and doom in this country. I’ve been harping in this space about the need to counter all these negativity brought about by the thousands of jobs lost in the semiconductor and some export industries. Yes, we lost thousands of jobs, but there remain thousands of jobs too that need to be filled. Not all companies are laying off people. There are many who are actually hiring. And a major job fair—one organized by the government—is a welcome development. Too bad greed and shortsightedness seemed to have gotten in the way of Jobapalooza 09.
When I heard about Jobapalooza (my first reaction was to suppress a fit of laughter, of course), my inherent civic-mindedness kicked in. Since I heard that the job fair was going to be for free, I thought of helping the organizers gather more participants to the fair. I happened to know a number of companies who are still on hiring mode. Since the bank I work for still has a number of openings that need to be filled, I thought we should sign up and be counted.
So I took the initiative of calling Jobstreet, the fair’s co-sponsor to sign up for the fair and to volunteer to act as liaison for more companies to participate. Imagine my dismay when I was told—in absolutely no uncertain terms, although they were quite apologetic about it—that the bank I work with could not participate in the job fair because one of the major sponsors of the job fair was another bank. I made sure I heard it right, so I asked for clarification thrice. I was told that competitor banks were banned from the event. Only one bank could be at Jobapalooza.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing because to begin with, the bank I work for is also a client of Jobstreet so to be told that we were being discriminated against in favor of another bank didn’t sound like good business strategy. But more importantly, I was incredulous that a government program designed precisely to brag about the fact that there are thousands of jobs available to displaced workers was deliberately slamming its doors on companies that were volunteering to help it buttress its case.
I want to be clear about this: The people I was talking to at that point were very definitive about the lockdown. Jobstreet even justified the decision by saying that the lockdown was not limited to the banking industry. It also applied to the telecoms industry—since Globe was already a major sponsor, Smart and Sun Cellular were also not welcome to join the job fair.
Of course I protested. I told them in no uncertain words that I felt the decision smacked of shortsightedness. I understand that under ordinary circumstances, competition issues often justified certain decisions such as a lockdown on competitor companies. But these are not ordinary times—we’re right smack in the middle of a crisis! It’s a government project primarily designed to help the hundreds of thousands of displaced workers and new graduates find jobs. Surely times like these call for a little nobility, perhaps enough to forego competition issues for the sake of loftier goals!
I was informed that another major bank also received the same reception—their participation in Jobapalooza 09 was also turned down for the same reason.
I am tempted to point out again that the current global crisis was sparked precisely by corporate greed. It’s been pointed out that the best way to get out of the current mess is precisely for corporations to apply the antitheses of greed—collaboration, selflessness, perhaps even reclaiming some old-fashioned values such as bayanihan. But I received a call last Friday from a Labor official who went out of her way to get in touch with me to apologize for the “misunderstanding”—so I think there’s no need to rub it in anymore. The DoLE representative knew my name and what I do (including the fact that I am a blogger) and obviously was doing spin control.
My sources say that the organizers got spooked by the fact that a column about the whole snafu was forthcoming, which explains the furious back-pedaling efforts.
So to cut a long story short, Jobapalooza 09 is now supposed to be open to other companies regardless of whether or not they are direct competitors of the major sponsors.
And because I still thought that the jobless, including displaced workers and new graduates, deserved a shot at the job openings in more companies, I still sent out e-mails to friends encouraging them to participate in Jobapalooza 09. A friend told me that he was given the runaround and the people at DoLE didn’t seem to be that excited about getting more participating companies. The feedback I got was that it seems the government is not serious about really showcasing employment opportunities. He got so frustrated he gave up immediately and said they now prefer to just do their own recruitment activities.
At a recent job fair organized by Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the President was supposed to have given the organizers the riot act after learning that the fair only managed to shortlist a handful of candidates after a whole day’s efforts. I was told this was mainly because the variety of jobs available in that job fair was severely limited. Clearly, if government wants Jobapalooza to succeed, it needs to open it up to more business organizations.
Government needs to be the one running after companies cajoling them into joining the fair, not the other way around.