The world came crashing down on Hanjin workers

Credit to Author: MARLEN V. RONQUILLO| Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2019 16:23:31 +0000

WHEN Albert and Jobert sought permission to leave the small farm for good about a decade ago, we had a despedida complete with a videoke and a big, big prayer that their next step in life, a return to their hometown of Castillejos, Zambales, to train in welding and shipwork, would in turn lead to a decent job that would last till their retirement. I encouraged them to hurry up and sign for the training, then gave them an amount that would tide them over during the training period.

It was the kind of fond farewell that you wish were always the case with young men who leave work on the farm — a step not into the unknown but into a decent, well-paying job.

Just a month or two after leaving the farm, they were gainfully employed in industrial jobs, as workers at the shipbuilding giant, Subic-based Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines, located just a few kilometers from their Castillejos hometown. From workers in a small farm to full-fledged industrial workers. What could be more ideal than that — industrial jobs right in their hometown.

The news of their gainful employment was the story I kept on repeating to the young men who worked at the small farm. Make this a transition job. Move elsewhere when the opportunity knocks — like Albert and Jobert.

Today, I can’t summon the courage to repeat that mantra. Albert and Jobert were casualties of the collapse of the Subic-based shipbuilding giant. Like the tens of thousands of young men, mostly from the Zambales area, summarily laid off after the shipbuilder failed to meet its financial obligations, failed to secure a financial lifeline, then spiraled into bankruptcy. For Albert and Jobert, the dream of a decent life is in tatters.

The sad news came to me last week. Jobert is back to doing menial jobs at the public markets and in the town’s small groceries. And cutting cogon, which would be supplied to shanty dwellers on the denuded mountain slopes of Castillejos and nearby towns. Albert has been subcontracting welding jobs at the small fabrication and tools shops in and around Subic, off-and-on work that pays very little.

They wanted to return to the farm. I told them the farm was in a far worse shape than Hanjin.

We the Irish people can’t be happy for so long, said Daniel Patrick Moynihan after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. We know that the world would always come crashing down on us. In less than 10 years, the world — the financial collapse of Hanjin rather — came crashing down on the once-hopeful lives of Albert and Jobert.

How many workers’ lives have come crashing down with the financial collapse of Hanjin? It was 40,000 at the peak, around 26,000 at the point the financial woes began buffeting the shipbuilding giant. The collapse is made worse by the fact that there is no known alternative to Hanjin. The maintenance requirements of the yachts at the giant yacht club are minimal. There is no possible transfer of workers to the Navotas-Malabon areas. The repair docks there are for vessels of smaller tonnage, mostly fishing vessels that just need a few dozen workers.

BPOs can easily relocate to the Subic area but there is a major constraint. The Hanjin workers definitely cannot be retrained for BPO jobs.

When a major industrial entity like Hanjin collapses, the official focus is on two major areas, the entity itself, which is Hanjin in this case, and the creditors, the banks that loaned out big sums of money to Hanjin, much of it unsecured.

With the local Hanjin, nothing could be done to save it. The collapse of Hanjin Philippines came in the wake of the collapse of the mother entity in South Korea. The mother entity ran into a sea of troubles and the Philippine entity got ensnared in the collapse of the other.

The five Philippine banks with a total of $412 million exposure to Hanjin Philippines can take care of themselves. They are too big to fail. In a previous column, I just took note of the fact that the Land Bank of the Philippines, a bank founded to help agrarian reform beneficiaries, is caught up in the Hanjin mess. It lends out sparingly to small farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries. If LandBank lends at all, it is to agri-business concerns and Big Agri. Yet, it was the second most generous extender of unsecured loans to Hanjin Philippines.

The verdict of the banking authorities is out. The five banks — RCBC, LandBank, Metrobank, BPI and BDO — will have dented profits. But they can eminently survive the biggest banking default in the history of the country due to their sheer size and profitability. Their asset base has been propped up and fortified.

It is the workers who will suffer the brunt of Hanjin’s collapse. Some, like Jobert, will go back to working in the cogonal patches, the most primitive and backbreaking of jobs. Some will do what Albert is doing, subcontracting welding jobs.

And the government, historically, is not predisposed to help. The government will have big plans for them in press releases. But no actual help will come to these workers.

Who, in this sad country of ours, pays attention to the needs of the earth’s wretched?

The post The world came crashing down on Hanjin workers appeared first on The Manila Times Online.