December 15, 2016 12:00 pm JST

Philippine women continue to pile on the overtime

Low pay and a booming service sector are driving up the working hours

CLIFF VENZON, Nikkei staff writer

Protesters demand justice for Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, an Indonesian domestic helper who accused her Hong Kong employer of physically abusing her, in Manila in February 2014. © Reuters

MANILA At a time when women around the world are working fewer and fewer hours, women in the Philippines continue to pile on the overtime.

A major culprit is the service sector, the country's growth engine. It employs over 90% of the women who are logging "excessive" hours -- 49 hours or more a week, according to 2014 data from the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency. This includes jobs in retail, hospitality, domestic help and business process outsourcing.

A big part of the reason is structural. Some 70% of the country's retail sector is dominated by mom and pop shops, many of which stay open from morning to midnight and are managed by "mom."

Meanwhile, nearly 2 million women work as domestic helpers, and many of them live with their employers -- an arrangement that means they are often "expected to work round-the-clock," said Lourdes Macapanpan, a program director at the ILO in Manila.

Rose Cabacang, 27, just added her fourth job last month: online marketer for a wedding planner.

She already holds down a full-time position at a global knowledge process outsourcing company, where she works from 8 in the evening until 5 in the morning. She juggles the three part-time jobs during the day.

Cabacang and her husband both make more than Manila's minimum wage of 491 pesos ($9.86) from their main jobs, more than enough to make ends meet. But she dreams of buying their own house and building up savings for her 2-year-old son.

The extra cash comes at a cost, however. Cabacang said she is lucky if she gets four hours of sleep a day, and she spends very little time with her son. "It breaks my heart when he asks me to play with him, but I just can't because I'm extremely tired," she said.

Because she and her husband are usually working, they hired a live-in helper. Karen, 18, works from 6 in the morning until 9 at night, taking breaks when her duties allow.

Cabacang and her maid are contributing to a trend in the Philippines in which 24.4% of working women are putting in 49 hours or more per week, compared with the standard 40 hours.

The ILO's Macapanpan said the growing number of working mothers has driven demand for domestic workers, a job that does not require formal training or experience. A lack of money forced Karen, Cabacang's maid, to drop out of high school to find work.

Although her job puts food on the table, it is hardly stable. Karen is Cabacang's 10th maid in over two years, and many other households report similarly heavy turnover.

Evelyn Manangan, chief at the Philippines labor department's women workers development division said the domestic help industry in the Philippines is "peculiar" in that workers tend to have fixed salaries but are expected to always be on the job. In more-developed countries, helpers are typically paid by the hour. It does not help that under Philippine law, domestic helpers are guaranteed only eight hours of rest a day.

Macapanpan said the fact that so many women have lower-paying jobs pushes them to work more.

"There should be more government programs for vocational and technical training to give [women] access to higher-paying jobs," she said.

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