To be old and jobless
A woman who was jailed in Saudi Arabia through no fault of her own came to see me. She was part of a group of beauticians who were arrested because their Saudi employer far exceeded the number of foreign workers allowed for a salon. Despite the traumatic experience, my guest who I believe was in her early 50s told me that she was itching to leave again. Why, I asked. She said she badly needs to earn for her children. How old is your eldest child? 39 and jobless, she said.
When it comes to local employment, there is an elephant in the room that we don’t talk about – the issue of age discrimination. Yet it is there for all to see – job vacancies open only to applicants 30 and below; flight attendants forced to retire at 40; and senior citizens, experienced and wise, untapped and largely ignored except when election season comes along.
According to an ILO survey, a higher portion of respondents from the Philippines (21%) claimed to have experience workplace discrimination compared to Indonesia (15%), India (12%), and Thailand (7%). I believe that we need tougher laws against workplace discrimination. The government should also encourage affirmative action programs that would enlist senior citizens, people with disabilities and indigenous peoples, for paid work.
I read in a column written by former Senator Ernesto Herrera that the Senior Citizens’ Act provides incentives for companies that do hire senior citizens. “Senior citizens who have the capacity and desire to work, or be re-employed, shall be provided information and matching services to enable them to be productive members of society…” It also states: “Private entities that will employ senior citizens upon effectivity of this Act, shall be entitled to an additional deduction from their gross income, equivalent to 15 percent of the total amount paid as salaries and wages to senior citizens subject to the provision of Section 34 of the National Revenue Code.”
I wonder how many companies do employ senior citizens because of this tax incentive? How many of them even know that there is such a provision? Unfortunately, the blatant practice of age discrimination in our society is not limited to senior citizens alone. Even a 35-year old college educated job applicant is already considered at a disadvantage by an economy that rewards the youth, pirates the youth, and actively seeks out no one but the young. In the Philippines, some 30 and above job applicants are turned away, not because they are incompetent, but because they would need to be paid a bit higher because of previous work experience. Let’s be honest – the young ones – fresh, agile, and good-looking — are easier to train, and not demanding therefore easier to exploit.
The toll on our economy over such discriminatory practices is heavy. Think of the woman in her 50s seeking work abroad because her eldest son is unable to find decent work here at home. And he was only in his 30s! Age discrimination has become a push factor especially for irregular migration. If our own service-driven job market is unfriendly to the old and ageing, then there are overseas job markets that are less discriminating, except that most of the jobs they offer suit only the most desperate applicants or workers with highly specialized (read: rare) skills.
I urge our legislators and the Department of Labor and Employment to look into the problem of workplace discrimination. A fair society must not give employers the sole right to dictate the ebb and flow of a productive life using the micro lens of age as a factor for employment. Let skills and competence prevail over physical and religious preferences; to condemn a person to a life of perpetual job fairs because he or she is older incapacitates entire families that have been reliant on that person for years of sustenance. Let us not punish our people for growing old.
To be old and jobless is worse than being young and restless. It is so sad to see the world speed by while one sits by the window, looking at how a decades-old mango tree in one’s backyard continues to bear fruit. “Buti pa siya, hindi nauubusan ng bunga.” The world is cruel enough as it is. (Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)