Recently, I’ve been seeing ads through Google which advertise a website through which you can hire workers for online jobs at a low rate. Many people use this website to find a virtual assistant or a content writer for their website.
The ads picture smiling Filipinos with captions advertising their rates. One woman is available “full-time for just $287 a month”. The website features success stories of Filipinos able to find steady work to help their families. I am happy that these people have jobs and are able to provide for their families.
And yet I feel exploited.
It’s unsettling to see face after face paraded in the margins of my screen offered as a cheap alternative to hiring Americans at fair wages. It’s disturbing to see faces that look like mine with numbers attached to them as if they are for sale. These people are working full time for less than $300 a month, a wage that I can earn in just a couple of days. There are more than 150,000 Filipinos registered in this database. Many of them work in fields that would command good salaries in the States. How many programmers will work full-time for $200 a month in the U.S.?
There are many people who will praise this cheap labor. They will say “living rates are lower in the Philippines” and that “these people won’t make more money somewhere else”. But these are justifications that have been used to condone everything from slavery to child labor to sweat shops.
One of the comments from a person who has used the website made my skin crawl. Chris Thompson of TalkingToToddlers.com wrote:
“I decided to look for an AWESOME content writer. Someone who has perfect English and I don’t care if he/she has any other skills aside from spelling, grammar, sentence structure and the ability to write interesting stuff. I found her on OnlineJobs.ph last night… My wife said, “wow, I can’t even write as well as her”…We did a 45 min text chat tonight. She made maybe 2-3 typos compared to my 8-10, and I didn’t see a single grammar mistake. I thought I was conversing with an American.”
This man’s post is riddled with flaws, and yet he has the audacity to assume the woman he hired was American because of her good writing skills. His wife expresses surprise that this Filipino woman is more proficient in English than she is.
Yet English is one of the national languages of the Philippines. Studies show that Filipinos speak English better than Americans. UNESCO reports the literacy rate of the Philippines as 96.3 percent, and the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy reports that 14 percent of the American population is functionally illiterate.
I can’t help but be insulted at the assumption that Filipinos should speak with broken English. I can’t help but feel exploited that my people are being used as a source of cheap labor. I can’t help but be absolutely infuriated that, more than a century of gaining independence from Spain, Filipinos are still subjected to this new form of 21st century colonialism.