How to measure happiness?| Labor group bucks survey conclusion on ‘happy workers’

Picket of contractual workers in Tanduay Distillers Inc. being blasted by water from a firetruck early morning of May 19.  (Photo courtesy of Pamantik-KMU)
Picket of contractual workers in Tanduay Distillers Inc. being blasted by water from a firetruck early morning of May 19. (Photo courtesy of Pamantik-KMU)

“Our unions, federations and regional chapters as well as institutions close to us are swamped with complaints from workers about their working conditions.”


MANILA – “Seventy percent of Filipino employees are happy with their jobs, which leaves only 30 percent who consider themselves unhappy.” This is the opening statement and conclusion of the Philippines’ Job Satisfaction Report released on Wednesday Sept. 2.

It became a news picked up by some media outlets.

But the sweeping generalization did not sit well with labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno, which only two days before had concluded their 11th national congress. The gathering of nearly 400 unionists, plus guests and labor advocates from 13 regional chapters and a number of national labor federations and alliances all over the country was a happy affair.

But after days of collating what amounts to a national labor situation report, the KMU leadership could not reconcile the results of the Jobstreet survey with the realities that workers are facing. The KMU labor situation report revealed that lower paid contractuals or non-regulars now vastly outnumber regular workers; that unions, despite their efforts at organizing, are still shrinking both in number and in membership, and with that, so are the wages, benefits and labor conditions; and that many of them are under threat of trumped-up charges, surveillance and harassments for being active defenders of their rights.

In a statement, the KMU’s newly reelected national chairman, Elmer “Bong” Labog, said they find it difficult to believe that over half (55 percent) of Filipino workers are really “quite happy” with their jobs and 15 percent are really “very happy” with their jobs, as the report of the online jobsite’s June-July 2015 survey has claimed.

Workers happy? Unbelievable conclusions

Labog said Filipino workers are constantly struggling to make ends meet. He added that employers with the help of the government are pressing down wages, promoting contractual employment, violating trade-union rights, and are wantonly ignoring workplace health and safety standards.

“To depict workers as happy under these conditions would be to condone the severe exploitation that they face,” Labog said.

The labor center dared Jobstreet Philippines to disclose how it had conducted its survey.
They asked who conducted the actual survey, if it distinguished between regular and contractuals, and if it took note of the fact that both may be “forced to put on happy faces in order to be employed and stay employed.”

Labor advocates have seen how surveys and even labor inspections can be manipulated. After all, the likes of Kentex Manufacturing Corp., which burned down and trapped in the fire more than 72 workers, had been deemed by Labor department inspectors as “compliant” with labor standards.
A non-government labor institution, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, has also observed in many instances after the Kentex fire tragedy that “The quality of inspection and the veracity of the workers’ conditions and a company’s compliance to these standards during DOLE’s inspections is questionable, to say the least,“ said Daisy Arago, executive director of CTUHR.

Based on their documentation and interviews with workers, they learned that companies normally brief workers before a labor inspector arrives and asks questions about their working conditions. In a factory that produces food chips in Valenzuela, the management, upon learning a labor inspector was due to arrive, pre-selected workers to be interviewed by the inspector. Arago said these workers were also told to sign a document saying that they are regular workers when in fact they have been contractual employees for many years.

They found the same habit in the inspection done by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP). In the same factory in Valenzuela, workers were reportedly told to stay in a closed room while the fire inspection of the building was being conducted. Apparently, the building’s official registration is a warehouse, not a production site, which has a different set of standard structure of fire protection.

Jobstreet is a different entity from the Labor Department, although its job announcements and tips dovetail or support the government agency’s ads for job fairs, programs and services. Other Jobstreet surveys, as it had said in previous announcements, also often covered just those it had the chance to interact with, and they are the employers and jobseekers who responded to their calls.

Their latest survey report did not elaborate on what their respondents meant by “quite happy,” given the known Filipino trait of being “euphemistic” or not being too direct, and sometimes even saying the opposite of what they meant (also because they rely on “indirect positive criticism,” and they put much store on the value of hiya or self-esteem).

In Jobstreet’s taking literally the majority of their respondents who said they are “quite happy,” and lumping them with the smaller 15 percent who are “very happy,” the KMU said, it deceives the employees about their condition and legitimizes capitalists’ intensifying exploitation of workers and violation of workers’ basic rights.”

“Our unions, federations and regional chapters as well as institutions close to us are swamped with complaints from workers about their working conditions. Many workers are trying to form unions but are being met with illegal retrenchment by employers. Workers are discontented with their jobs,” Labog said.

Ironically, even the same Jobstreet survey findings hinted at such dissatisfaction. It said that “Levels of satisfaction also see a marked decrease as employees stay longer in their jobs,” with the cause for happiness being mostly their wages.

More of the “happy” employees are new in their jobs, and they’re largely fresh graduates, according to Jobstreet. Also, this happy bunch tends to decrease in number as they stay longer on their jobs. The online job site also reported that “a sizeable number still have plans of changing careers.” (

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