Labor in the Philippines: You Get What You Pay For

I realized that you always get what you pay for.

This month, my business is looking for a junior administrative officer. The minimum wage is Php 466/day or Php 12,200/month (that’s USD 285 for 26 working days).  I’m willing to pay up to Php 13,500, which is already slightly higher than minimum wage.

And boy, did I get peanuts.

The job itself is deceptively simple — data encoding, reviewing of receipts, preparing the payroll from the daily time sheets. Anybody who can add and subtract can do it.

Finding the right person to do it is another story.

For one, there were many interview no-shows.

This is I believe, a distinctive Philippine labor issue.

You have a job post, then many people apply for it.

You contact them for an interview and they confirm that they will come.

You give them the details and address, and reconfirm with them the time.

Come the proper time…


They simply don’t show up for the interview.

Your normal reaction usually is:




Then again, after several hiring cycles, you become immune to the absenteeism and no-shows that have become so rampant in the Philippine recruitment market.

People just don’t care about appointments, or informing you earlier if they cannot make it.

They’ll just go, “Whoops. Sorry dude, can’t make it.”

Like today, after not showing up for her interview, I texted one applicant, “No show for interview, Shella?”

No answer.

I try again, “I will be putting you as a no show on Jobstreet. Will you still want to reschedule?”

With the threat of blacklisting herself, she finally answers, “I’m sorry mam for not coming. I have an emergency in our home.”


Hmmmm…. very dubious.

Seriously, if I can give myself a peso for every number of times Filipinos use “family emergency” as an excuse for NOT showing up for something, I’d be a multi-billionaire.

Put it this way, I’ve had five (5) interviews lined up today. Three had family emergencies. Coincidence much?

I think not.

Two, many of the applicants seem to not take work seriously. You cannot rely on them too much.

Two weeks ago, I was interviewing one applicant who said that she’s been hopping jobs every five months because she was bored of the position.

I want a job that challenges me,” she said. “Someplace where I can expand my skills and talents, and develop my career.”

Can you write?” I asked. “We are looking for someone who can help us do research.”

I can write,” she answered.

Okay, I am interested in hiring you but want to see your writing samples,” I challenged her. “Can you send me your writing samples to this email address?”

No problem, ma’m,” she replied.

Two weeks later, and I’m still waiting for her writing samples. I followed up but wasn’t even given a polite answer.

Another girl we were interested in was interviewed and came to our training. We then asked her to go to the agency to sign the contract so she can start working.

No problem, ma’m,” she said.

And off she goes. The next day, we called the agency to followup if she showed up for the contract signing.

Lo and behold, she didn’t.

We called her up a few times again to try to get in contact with her.

No answer.


Seriously, people here have no word of honor. They don’t show up when they say they would, and they’re not even that polite to tell you they are no longer interested.

After finding out that it’s not just our business that has this problem, I ignorantly asked my husband, “Why do they always do this?!”

Because they usually can get away with it,” he explained. “In the Philippines, there is no consequence. If you don’t show up, what can you do anyway? Nothing. So they don’t show.”

And 3) It’s rare to find someone here who can keep their personal and professional lives separate.

Filipinos are very close to their families. There’s a local joke actually, “Marry the Pinay, and get their family as part of the package.”

I remember when we went to Singapore and our taxi driver was telling us that he married a Filipina when she was on vacation in Singapore with her friend.

“How many times you go home to Manila?” I asked.

Once a year, and thank God for it!” he replied.

As it turns out, every time they would come home, they would pack two balikbayan boxes full of pasalubongsPasalubongs mean gifts for the family, and they look like this:


Just imagine how many chocolates you can pack in this humongous box. 🙂

The pasalubong itself already makes for a very expensive homecoming trip.

What’s worse, when the taxi driver and his wife comes home, the family treats him like a regular Santa Claus.

All of a sudden, people I’ve never heard of before come to the house and pick us up,” he related. “Then we would go to the mall, and I would pay for their food, their gas and the movie. There would be 20 of us going out.”

“Thank God it’s only once a year,” he again repeated while shaking his head.

It’s the same with hiring people in the Philippines.

For many applicants, their lives are too intertwined with either their families or their boyfriends.

Take for example Nelain, one of our salespeople. She was absent for two days because of boyfriend issues. She was cheating on him with a customer and he caught her and beat her up. For some reason, women in the Philippines cheat too, and they’re always caught and beaten for it.

The sales of our best selling salesperson, Jho, dropped 50% because of husband issues.

Robby had to be absent for two days because he had to take his auntie to the bus stop.

One of our salespeople feigned sickness on a weekend, only to find out that she was out with her police boyfriend while her husband thought she was working.

Conflicts at home have a way of affecting performance. It’s hard for my people to separate their personal and professional lives.

Walang personalan,” or “It’s nothing personal,” we would say.

But it’s not true: Here, many things are personal.

Criticisms are taken personally.

When you give people performance feedback, you have to be very very clear that what you are criticizing is their performance and not them as people. They take it the wrong way, and they mutter under their breaths that you’re out to get them instead of seeing it as a way to improve.

When families are involved, especially parents and children, you’d have to give leeway. Work is important but if your child has a slight fever, people here have a tendency to drop everything and go cater to the child.

I personally have no issues with this by the way. Health is wealth and of course, family is more important than work. What irks me is if they use the excuse of sickness or family emergency to escape work, when it’s not actually true!

Happens more than you think. 🙁

So in general, with many Filipinos, when you hire them, there is no security blanket. You are not sure that the job would be done correctly, and you have to be patient in teaching them to be more careful over and over.

Here, there is no such thing as limited supervision. Stop monitoring them and productivity goes down. Facebook, Youtube and shopping online goes up.

Big sigh.

Look, all I’m saying is, it’s not easy to get good help here in the Philippines.

Problems that are rampant here that are not as rampant elsewhere include: absenteeism, stealing, gross gossiping, insubordination, tardiness, and letting other issues affect work.

That is why, doing a business in the Philippines is hard.

It’s not the business aspect per se that makes things hard. It’s the managing people aspect that makes life difficult.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Not all Filipinos are bad. There are some that is competent, loyal and have good working attitudes. I am proud to say, a lot of people in my core team are people I value and respect, and I do not regret hiring them.

However, they are much rarer than you think.

And comes with so many hits and misses.

Mostly misses.

And so the search goes on: For the perfect employee.

Like my mother in law said, “It’s not that we don’t want to pay people higher. It’s not that we don’t like to regularize our people. It’s just that we cannot find the right people whom we can trust to reward better.”

I 1000% agree.


How about you guys? Are you running your own business and how are your experiences in hiring people in Manila? Are they the same as mine, or are you having better luck?

And yes, I know that to get better candidates, I have to increase the salary range. However, for clerical work, paying the person a little above minimum seems about right. I only need her for data entry and permit applications anyway. I cannot go too wild on the salary knowing fully well there are other places I can allocate the funds to.

Anyway, looking forward to your comments if any!

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4 thoughts on “Labor in the Philippines: You Get What You Pay For

  1. not entireky surprising. same pattern in the UK and in France for low-wage jobs (minimum wage or close to), so perhaps it is not so much a cultural issue. if i see the same lack of motivation and discipline amongst europeans earning minimum wage, then i expect worse indeed for filipinos, given that the minimum wage rate in the philippines is ridiculously low. even correcting for cost of living, it is simply impossible to live on? not an excuse for wasting people’s time, but it is easier to judge when you are not in their shoes? how would you feel like earning php13k a year, i wonder?

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