May they never be called “low-skilled” workers again
Originally published in The HERALDO FILIPINO Broadsheet Vol. 34 Double Issue
Some workers are often seen on the sidelines but now that crisis has struck, we recognize that we need their presence more than ever. They were actually never less than who they are, and it is not as if they only mattered just recently.
They have always been everywhere, a perpetual aspect in our everyday lives until today, doing things that not everybody can, and they do this even when described in a way that makes them seem not worth much as other workers in our society. While we are discovering the cracks in the foundation of what we built our “normal” on, it is high time to change our perspective on the laborious endeavors of those people we used to call “low-skilled” workers.
Low-skilled workers—when these words are mentioned, what did society normalize to come into our minds? Janitors. Farmers. Fisherfolk. Garbage collectors and other sanitation workers. Street sweepers. Supermarket cashiers. Housekeeping personnel. Construction workers. Social workers. Fast food staff. All public transportation vehicle drivers. Delivery folks and plenty more.
These people’s romanticized sacrifices as frontliners made it into viral stories and netizens gobbled it up, thinking that there is something so noble for such a job to suddenly have the spotlight for once. And yet, the essence of the stories is lost on many because it is still not realized that how we describe them as “low-skilled” is the problem.
Low-skilled or low-value? An article based on Katie Ferguson’s argument titled “There is no such thing as low-skilled labor” said that the word low-skilled is a complicated, vague, and insulting description for the essential work that drastically drains its workers physically and emotionally. It even suggests that this type of work is dispensable and as Ferguson explained, it is no doubt a euphemism for “low-valued” work.
These essential workers are what holds this economy together, what stays functioning despite the dangers we face. We often forget them in our busy lives, failing to notice just how integrated they are in the fabrics of society.
Although it is the type of work that deals with harsh environments, conditions, and pay, it is also the work no one envies. This may be true, but Ferguson wrote that it is also the “Work that takes care of your sick parents so you don’t have to. Work that looks after your children so you don’t have to. Work that serves you coffee when you desperately need a moment of human interaction. Work that puts food on your table. Work that cleans up the street outside your house. Work that builds cities. Work without which economies would collapse.”
To give context, our economy follows a kind of ladder on an individual’s labor. Skilled work is where the individual has the formal qualifications and the right specialties, often associated with good education or certified training while “low-skilled” work is where anyone can qualify. However, following this logic puts the criteria for government officials on the same low level we devalue our workers with. Just by this comparison it’s already clear where equity in our society is lacking.
These essential workers are what holds this economy together, what stays functioning despite the dangers we face. We often forget them in our busy lives, failing to notice just how integrated they are in the fabrics of society. But now that we have shed light on them, we must persevere to keep it that way, so the efforts of their labor will never be set aside in the shadows like the “normal” did before.
May the world become a place where such work will never be a cause of shame or discrimination. May the country be able to unlearn devaluing people who keep our economy going. May these workers someday be proudly employed and properly compensated for their labor. Lastly, may we never call these people “low-skilled” ever again.