Officially ‘unemployed’ on Labor Day

Jeremy Pancho, Biel Pante
Officially ‘unemployed’ on Labor Day
'Our generation is challenged to ensure that the hard-won rights by labor movements are kept'


Last Sunday, we were two of the 4,000 students who graduated from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. Today, we are two of the thousands of fresh graduates looking for jobs.

Almost a week after graduation, reality hit us: we are officially unemployed. 

 While job-hunting for a full-time job, we are doing part-time research work with UP. Our study is about labor conditions in CALABARZON, which is one of the Philippines’ fastest growing regions. We have administered over 30 questionnaires, conducted 6 in-depth interviews, and stayed in Barangay Platero in Biñan, Laguna, our main field site, in the past month. 

UNEMPLOYED. Being part of the workforce means possibly facing the same problem as everyone else. Graphic by Raffy De Guzman/

As we gather data for the study, we could not help but feel concerned about the difficult conditions Filipino workers face because these are the very same conditions we will encounter when we get employed.

Our initial research findings push us to think about our future as part of the labor force, whether we can have a shot at a decent life given current labor practices. So far, our findings indicate a bleak future.

Minimum wage

Take the case of minimum wage. The minimum wage in Biñan for non-agricultural workers is P337.50, which is lower than NCR’s P466.

Although one could assume that the cost of living outside Metro Manila is relatively cheaper, we observed that this wage is far from enough. Our respondents have described several ways to make ends meet.

Among the common means include asking for salary advance or using ATM cards as collateral for loans.

One of our respondents, a middle-aged housewife, explains that it is customary that two to three days before her husband’s pay day, they begin taking debts to make ends meet. Others engage in alternative forms of livelihood – the so-called “sideline” – to supplement their current wages.

Based on these conditions, it is not surprising that majority of our respondents consider migrating overseas as a sensible “exit strategy” from earning meager wages after a full day’s work.


Most of our respondents are also contractual workers. These are employees who have contracts spanning 5 to 11 months, depending on the needs, regulations and line of work of the hiring company or agency. 
Based on the employee’s performance, contracts may be renewed or left to end (what contractual workers usually call ‘endo’ or end of contract), forcing workers to find employment elsewhere.

Sometimes, contractual workers are treated like they are second class citizens because they do not enjoy the same benefits as regular employees do such as access to shuttle services, meal allowance, participation in team building activities, and enlisting in labor unions.

What we find interesting is the difference of opinion about contractualization between younger and older workers. Older workers tend to be critical of the contractualization scheme, with one respondent stating, “mamamatay na ata kaming kontraktwal (we might die as contractual workers).

Those in their twenties, on the other hand, seem to have accepted contractual labor as the norm, some even expressing appreciation for such arrangement because they tend to “get bored” at work, hence, shifting jobs is not such a bad option.

What concerns us is how contractualization can enable workers to achieve satisfying lives by developing their skills and potential, and establishing meaningful relationships with their workmates.

We are concerned that the demands of work, particularly the increasing pressure to work overtime (OT) to earn a bit more, leaves workers exhausted and docile, which stops them from engaging in collective action that pushes for workers’ welfare.

We admire the friendships that develop among workers from the same company or living in the same community. However, we wonder whether this can translate into deep forms of solidarity that enable them to collectively demand for better working conditions, considering all of them know they deserve better.

The first of May

Soon, we will become just like the subjects of our study, wage-income earners living our everyday lives with a regular routine. Our research gives us mixed feelings about the realities of joining the work force. We look forward to helping out or families and getting more experience in “the real world,” but we are also concerned that we may never find secure employment paying decent wages like most of our respondents.

On the first of May, we find it even more important to commemorate Labor Day. This is not just to show appreciation for the socio-economic achievements secured by workers all over the world, but, more importantly, to join the struggle for living wages and decent working conditions.

Our generation is challenged to ensure that the hard-won rights by labor movements are kept.

Some young people would probably prefer to celebrate the first of May by partying – #Laboracay.

We think it is more conscientious to march alongside the working class – physically or symbolicall – and unite our voices to win back our right to work in humane conditions.

Unfair labor conditions will continue to persist if we, alongside others who are at the losing end of systemic inequalities, remain callous and choose not to take action. –

Jem Pancho and Biel Pante are graduates of the BA Sociology program from the University of the Philippines Diliman. They are aspiring researchers and are training to become full-fledged social scientists. Jem and Biel are both committed to conducting research that will not only shed light on social realities but also will also promote social development and emancipate the oppressed. 

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