Saturday, February 07, 2009

Fair Pay and Equal Value of Work

Before anything, attention must be paid to what’s happening to the workers at the Hanjin Shipyard in Subic, Philippines.

Since this shipbuilding site opened, 24 workers have died from various causes – accidents, disease, etc. – and scores more injured. Last week, a bus ferrying workers to the workplace overturned and 24 were hurt. The Philippine Department of Labor has exempted Hanjin, the world’s 4th largest shipbuilding company now employing 15,000 workers in the Philippines, from culpability, blaming instead “subcontractors.” Hanjin is South Korean-owned and as we pointed out in a previous post, there are roughly 100,000 South Koreans studying in the Philippines, part of a slow process of turning the archipelago into suzerainty. This seems inevitable, considering the inability of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government to protect its own constituency from economic subjugation by foreigners. Indeed, threats have been made about “political repercussions,” if the Philippine Senate perseveres in its decision to hold investigative hearings on this continuing worker deaths. The workers are trying to unionize. Hanjin is set to build another shipyard, this time in Mindanao – so it seems shipbuilding in the Philippines is that profitable.

Now to the US scene where even within the women’s movement, the response to President Obama’s signing of the Ledbetter Act -- his first law, nine days after his inauguration – was muted.

The law reverses an artificial statute of limitation established by a US Supreme Court decision denying Lilly Ledbetter her discrimination suit against her employers who hired her, 18 years previous, at a salary lower than those of her male counterparts. The Supreme Court decision considered the original act as the only act of discrimination; the Fair Pay Act signed by Obama considers every salary thereafter that’s below par with male counterparts as part of a continuing act of discrimination.

A small hurrah – because in these times of CEOs getting 400 times the pay of the average worker, we realize there’s another question we should be asking – as in, what kind of work is really vital to production?

When the carmaker CEOs appeared before Congress, flying in on separate corporate jets, the longer lasting outcry was against the $70 per hour wage unionized auto workers were supposedly making versus the $59 per hour that non-union workers made. The argument was that a melt-down economy cannot afford the current cost of labor. It would take more spendthrift scandals and $16 billion in Wall Street bonuses before we wised up and began asking whether we could afford the entire managerial sub-class, members of which are paid around $23,000 to $28,000 per hour ($59-$70 X 400).

I can’t imagine doing anything so significant as to be paid that much – except perhaps working to lop off the entire managerial class.

Which, of course, leads us to ask if workers can put together a car in the absence of management? Conversely, can management put together a car in the absence of workers? Because the product is the end-all of production, isn’t it?

Let us ruminate on this and allied issues as we contemplate the $500,000 cap on executives’ salaries that this administration is proposing and the shrieks from execs that they wouldn’t be able to attract talent at that pay rate. Talent? It takes talent to run down a multi-trillion dollar economy? It takes talent to make the wrong decisions and waste money?

It takes major effort to wrap one’s mind around that.

And by the way, the male-female wage gap has been narrowing – it’s now $1.00 - $.78 -- not because women’s wages have risen but because men’s wages have fallen.

Our view of what's important work is so skewed that, in the stimulus package, it seems like anything that redounds to the benefit of women has been cut, deleted, thrown into the ash-heap. Hey, remember the definition for the work done mostly by women, household work -- the work that makes all other work possible. ##


Anonymous said...

24 workers killed? I'm a union organizer and this company would've been struck with the first casualty. Or at the very least, sued for violation of occupational safety laws.

Anonymous said...

The Hanjin company should be CULPABLE (unfortunately, in this world, money can buy you out of that). The Philippine government need to come up with a more comprehensive and sustainable solution to protect its workers (I'd propose stringent protectionist laws, but then again, if that happens, the Philippines will be deemed by "the-powers-that-be" as an Asian version of Cuba).

I'm still quite unsure as to where I stand with the reportedly increasing numbers of South Koreans studying in the Philippines. Simply because I'd hate the rhetoric to devolve into one of those xenophobic hysteria. Look, I can understand the disparity. However, more investigation and analysis need to be devoted into this matter because we have always lived in a transnational world where the nation-state borders blur amidst human movement. I'd hate for the Philippines to fall into that god-awful nativist and overt-nationalistic propaganda that other countries have because they do not want immigrants (of varying privileges--professional immigrants, low-skilled immigrant,& etc) in their countries.

Ms. Rosca, regardless whether you agree with my ideas or not, it's always a pleasure reading your mind-stimulating blogs.

Ninotchka Rosca said...

Thanks for the kind words. It is fine by me if Koreans or any other race/nationality study in the Philippines; the problem is that this phenomenon is taking place within the context of a full economic onslaught on the country. Not only by Koreans but by other Asian multinational corporations. Btw, Hanjin bulldozed trees and land in a water shed area to build luxury condos for its executives. Another Korean company dug into the slopes of Taal Volcano. The environmental damage of this economic takeover has been incalculable.

Anonymous said...

If equality is not the final objective, what then should the women's movement be asking for?