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

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • yes. that’s true, especially to women who are married and with children.

  • theres really a lot of discrimination when it comes to age nowadays, its also mainly because the fresh grads are more uptodate and knows the emerging trends, but I still think that older people are much better to work with because they have more commitment which i think would make a successful business grow much faster

  • Christopher Bueno

    Older people does mean “mabagal na” or some may say it “mahirap na nang turuan at me sungay na” mas maganda nga kami. I’m 33 jobless for a year now but kung ganyan ang attitude ng employer, wala talaga. Sorry to say, matagal pa bago mangyari ang pang-asenso ng pinas (kung aasenso pa nga ba)

  • There is discrimination. That is undeniable. That is true for one who is 20,30,40 and 60 year olds. The fresh graduate students do not get jobs because they do not have experiences. The senior citizens are not accepted because one cannot teach an old dog new tricks. I have yet to see a person who turn into a dog at the age of 50 though.

    But we live in a democratic state. One is free to find a job. The employer is free to choose an employee. I meet a lot of people every day. Really, it is not the fault of the government that most people do not have jobs. We are responsible for our lives, and nobody else. The government can help only those who help themselves.

    Your example above highlights the great difference in attitude. The mother in her 50s is looking for a job. The son who is 39 is jobless. My God! I was able to feed myself when I was 13 years old. Getting a job is only one of the ways to earn a living. One can definitely find one in the Philippines.

    Filipinos must stop thinking on how the government can help them. They must start thinking how they can help the Philippines.

  • suz

    so true! i can feel the pinch in my heart. i am talented, can cook, write, embroider, knit, teach English, etc. but old and jobless. the only thing that makes me happy these days is my writing for a magazine which pays a good P3100/piece.

    i am surviving cancer and it is hard. i wish there can be a job at home wherein i can earn a substantial income to pay my bills and medicines.

    with my condition, i only have 2 meals a day and deny it to my friends because i don’t want pity. i wish things get better here, or i may lose my home too one day.

    it doesn’t make me feel better at all when people say: “me mas mahirap pa sa iyo”.

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