[nothing as outrageous as the video above, but when abuse is tolerated and accepted at the workplace it opens a Pandora’s box. Thanks to South China Morning Post for the vid!]
WE READ and then reread the article about a kabayan Filipino being maltreated and abused by his employers in the South Island.
It got to the point where we were disoriented, dismayed and finally disgusted that such could happen in this day and age in modern-day New Zealand, but that was on the surface.
You know what? Deep down, I wasn’t really that surprised.
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When I was in Auckland little more than a decade ago, my flatmate told me (and he had no reason to lie) his Countdown (supermarket) supervisor flicked an open hand across the back of his head in annoyance, something that never happened to him in the Philippines.
Goodwife Mahal had barely been in Wellington for more than a month when we both witnessed a food court manager doing the same thing (between a kutos and sapok) across the back of the head of his female cashier while we were waiting for our burger and fries order. We didn’t realize the consequence of the situation (a male supervisor physically assaulting a female staffer in front of multiple witnesses) until long after we got home.
And I myself received a flick of two fingers to the back of my earlobe (called a pitik back home) by a senior mentor a few years back. Granted, the mentor is/was very old school (in his 60s) and was done partly in jest or good-natured annoyance, but I’m not justifying it. It’s always contextual, but anytime interaction between manager and staff becomes physical, you have to take a step back and say, wait a minute, let’s bring the level down a bit.
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What was reported in the article was certainly shocking, but it wasn’t new by any measure. Just two weeks back, another kabayan was forced to leave work after suffering neck and arm bruises just because he walked out of his work area, not that any situation justifies physical harm or abuse from the employer.
So we’re now more or less settled : physical abuse not only exists in the NZ workplace, it’s not rare, and empirical evidence shows it can happen in any industry or region. But an equally perplexing puzzle that comes to my mind is, why do Filipinos like you and me seem to tolerate it? There’s no proof of this, but the fact that it took quite a while for the subjects in the situations above before formally making a complaint, legal or otherwise, is quite astounding. But you and I kabayan know that this kind of reluctance is far more common than anyone will admit, and it is quite common.
These are the reasons I’ve come up with:
Old school respect shouldn’t mean tolerating abuse. There’s a very large variety of age groups among Filipino workers, from the teens, working students, twentysomethings all the way to the very senior, primarily because, well, there are quite a few Pinoys in New Zealand, but also because there is no age discrimination in New Zealand. But despite the various age groups, we’re very old-school, meaning traditional, when it comes to respecting and acknowledging authority in the workplace. (New Zealanders on the other hand are generally more collegial and collaborative.) This has its roots in our Filipino traditions for respect for our elders, respect for those in authority, and respect for the head of the family, instilled in us since time immemorial.
Because of the extreme trust we place in those who manage above us, it is prone to abuse, sometimes literally. What can sometimes begin in innocent jokes can lead to verbal abuse, and finally to physical abuse. We Filipinos are only too vulnerable to such, because we frequently avoid arguments and are rarely confrontational, to the point of keeping quiet even when we are clearly uncomfortable.
We accept abuse as part of reparation, because we think we deserve it and are paying for it. Deep down, when we do something wrong in the workplace, we think we deserve to be punished. Again, it recalls an era when we were very young, particularly the baby boomers (born late 1940s to mid 1960s) and Gen X-ers (1970s), when corporal punishment was administered to us without the bosses batting an eyelash.
We think that because we are given some sort of “punishment,” verbal, physical or otherwise, we sort of “pay” for our mistake, and life goes back to normal. This is of course unacceptable. Mistakes are part and parcel of work life, and no amount of effing up justifies a slap, whack or worse punch from your superior. It doesn’t matter that previous bosses or managers used to do it and it was accepted as part of the norm. It is unacceptable at any level and in any situation. Filipinos should realize that, the sooner the better.
Fear of reprisal or dismissal. This is more universal, but Filipinos value job security more than many other Asians, and definitely more than local New Zealanders. Why is this so? Well, the simplest reason is that a lot of us are first generation migrants, and acquiring our jobs took much more effort than our non-migrant colleagues. Aminin man natin o hindi, we prize our employment as much as our permanent residence, our standing in our community, our relationship with our hosts. it is huge part of our pride, our honor.
Now whenever this job security is threatened in any way, we are ourselves threatened. Never mind that we can find jobs elsewhere, and never mind that we are protected by good NZ laws in our job security. We only leave our jobs on our own terms, and we do everything we can to stay in our jobs. If this involves sacrificing our self-worth, enduring humiliation and accepting abuse, so be it.
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Again, this mindset can’t be allowed to continue affecting our kabayans’ hearts and minds. It’s our inherent right to stay in our jobs as long as we do our work properly and with integrity. No one can be allowed to bully us out of our jobs, and this includes supervisors, managers, and owners of the businesses we work for.
You can say it in so many words and ways, but in the end it’s as plain as the nose on our brown faces: physical abuse is unacceptable, on any level and in any situation. The sooner we Pinoys understand this, the better for all of us.
Thanks for reading, mabuhay!