Fighting age discrimination in the Philippines
On Labor Day, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization that I head, launched an online petition urging Congress to pass a law against age discrimination in the workplace. As I write this column, more than 200 petitioners have signed up in a span of two and a half days. An uphill battle is expected considering the divided attention of Congress amid corruption cases, a draft Bangsamoro Basic Law as well as the 2015 national budget.
Given the high unemployment rate in the Philippines, highest among all ASEAN member states, it is truly a “buyers’ market” with companies able to dictate the age, height, gender, and even the physical appearance of desired applicants. An extreme bias for younger job applicants among hiring companies is evident when one takes time to read the classified ads. I was aghast to see a want ad for a messenger that pegs the age requirement as not going beyond 30 years old.
Sharon, an overseas worker from Saudi Arabia, is planning to apply for a job as a domestic worker but this time in Hong Kong. Why the need to leave, I asked her, knowing fully well how happy she was to get back. Sharon told me that she has been applying for various jobs but never got passed the door because of her age. Sharon is not even 40.
Age diversity in the workplace is a good thing because younger employees can be mentored by the older ones and vice-versa. Employees who have been working in a company for years should not be shunted aside or forced to resign for reasons other than the unspoken one: The age factor. Of course there are positions that require younger, pleasant-looking people but these should be the exception, not the norm. Otherwise, social inequity will flourish and the productive years of older but still capable workers will be abruptly cut off.
Other countries have clear policies and laws against age discrimination in the workplace. Singapore has created a tripartite body to curb age discrimination while South Korea enacted a law setting a certain percentage of the workplace for elderly workers, and in the process enumerating 77 jobs that should be allotted for them.
In the Philippines, Sen. Pia Cayetano has filed Senate bill no. 29 prohibiting acts of age discrimination in the workplace. Sadly, the bill has not gone past the committee level. A similar bill filed last year by Representative Edwin Olivarez of Paranaque City is in a state of inertia in the House of Representatives. Unless the issue of age discrimination becomes a subject of public debate, these measures will have little chances of making it all the way to the presidential desk for signature.
Overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East and elsewhere also need to make their voices heard. Someday soon, they are bound to come back — more experienced but yes, a bit older than when they left — and shall likely face the same wall of prejudice that many workers in the domestic workforce now experience.
We started an online petition that will be submitted to the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives once it has gone beyond the one thousand-mark. Interested OFWs can simply visit www.change.org and search for the petition filed by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center or write to me and state your reasons for wanting to sign the petition, and I will make sure to write back with a link to the actual site and updates on our campaign.