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Outside SM mall there was a bunch of girls who were protesting the “unfair” wages they pay at the department store.  Now before it sounds like I’m selling out (I work in a call center as you may know) and siding with the corporate bosses, let me illustrate one core concept here in the Philippines.  We are overpopulated like most of the Asian region.  If you ever walk into that department store, you will notice that each clothing department has about 100 workers.  Take the checkout counter for example.  Checkout counters are distributed throughout each department.  Let’s say that there are two cash registers at each checkout counter.  You will commonly see a checker girl at each terminal, two assistants, and two baggers.  That means that there are about 8-10 girls and guys at this station alone!  From what I understand in the States, you will only have both terminals working during Christmas, and then you will still only have one girl doing the work of what it takes 5 people to do here!  As far as sales girls go, good luck in finding assistance at the clothing racks.  So common sense tells me that you have three choices.  Fire four of the workers, and quadruple the pay of the main checker, or keep all 5 people and raise prices around the store to reflect the cost of labor.  But is firing 4 workers at each station socially or even morally responsible?  What will the dismissed workers do now?  Will they starve?  Will they riot in the streets?  The Philippines is not exactly the land of opportunity, especially when so many people who come from distant provinces simply to find even a minimum wage job.  So what about the option of raising the prices and paying the workers more money?  Again, who will pay these higher prices at the store?  The organized department stores have to compete with the “underground economy” here in the Philippines.  It’s comprised mostly of unlicensed businesses that pay little or no taxes and pass the savings along to the consumer.  If the department stores become too uncompetitive with this grey market, they will be forced to close.  Then everyone loses in the long run, especially if foreign investors decide that if the local economy can’t even keep a discount department store open.

So that leaves us with option 3 that keeps things the way they are now.  Personally, I’d love to walk into a store that has more customers than employees and not have to hear “Good afternoon ma’am!” every time I turn around or have 10 male workers in the bra section know what is my bra size.  Obviously through the years we ended up with option 3 for a series of trial, error, and compromise.

Needless to say, I told the protestors that I couldn’t support their strike.

January 9th, 2005

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