Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Confessions of a young worker's parent

My eldest son is turning 16 this year. Last month, he told me he got a job, his first one ever, and immediately I feared for his safety.

I know what you're thinking: "Great, another one of those overreacting helicopter parent!" Sure, I can be a little overprotective of my children, even a little too nosy when it comes to my children's lives. But my concern is driven by a deeper reality: the fact that young workers are five times more likely to be injured in the first six months on a job than any other time. According to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, between 2009 and 2013 more than 30,000 young workers aged 15 to 24 suffered a workplace injury that resulted in lost time at work. In the same time period, 30 young workers died from workplace-related incidents.

My son works as a part-time dishwasher at an upscale retirement residence near his high school. I'm thinking, ok, what could go wrong? What safety risks could he be facing working in the kitchen? Handling sharp objects? Slip and fall? Cuts and burns? Is he being trained about the safety hazards he could be exposed to at work?  In 2013, many of the injured young workers aged 15 to 19 years old were food counter attendants and kitchen helpers – kitchen helpers!

In my previous job, I was the editor of a publication that covers workplace health and safety for OHS professionals. In many instances, I saw how lives can be ruined, families torn apart in one brief moment that causes a worker to be injured or die on the job. I have spoken to parents who have lost a child to a workplace accident and seen the grief that will forever be etched in their eyes. I listened to a young worker tell me how she lost two fingers from a machine operation gone awry.

So, yes, when my son told me he got a job, I whispered a silent prayer for his safety. Outwardly, I gave him a "proud parent" thumbs-up and proceeded to talk to him about safety on the job and his rights as a young worker.

Most young people entering the labour force for the first time are filled with mixed emotions. They are nervous, they are excited, they are scared, they are happy. Thinking about potentially getting hurt on the job may not be on the top of their must-worry-about list. The hope is that safety would be at their employer's priority list. In an ideal world that would be the case. But sadly, not all employers put safety above profits.

As a parent, I have no problem putting my children's safety at the top of my list and being an advocate for them. Yes, I am aware I can't just charge into my son's workplace and demand to see their workplace safety manual or their latest MSDS documents. I would, but my son will probably never speak to me again if I did that. So, I must educate him, constantly and consistently.

The most important thing for a young worker to know are his rights as a worker. Do not assume the employer will cover this off in the first-day worker orientation. If like me, you're the parent of a young worker who is just venturing out into the fun and exciting world of work, let them know about these important basic rights they are entitled to.

1. Know. They have the right to know the hazards and safety risks at their workplace and the safeguards and measures that are in place to mitigate those hazards. If the employer does not cover that off in orientation, tell your child that, if they wish to do so, they can ask and have an open discussion with their supervisor about workplace safety. They won't get into trouble for that. It's their right.

2. Partake. They have the right the participate in finding solutions to workplace safety hazards. Get to know who the members of the health and safety committee are. Raise any health and safety concerns with them. They can, if they wish to, make suggestions about how to increase safety at work.

3. Refuse. This is the most important thing and one that many young workers are afraid to do, even if the situation calls for it. Workers – young or old, full-time or part-time – have the right to refuse unsafe working conditions. If they do so, they are protected by the law and cannot be reprimanded for refusing to perform unsafe work. There are certain exceptions to this, but young workers are mostly covered by this right to refuse unsafe work.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has some great resources for parents of young workers. Check it out and share what you learn with your child.

I will be posting updates in this blog about my journey as a parent of a young worker. As much as I am determined to be constantly aware of my son's experiences at work and ready to offer an advice or two here and there, I am also certain I will learn a few things along the way and will be happy to share them here.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and maybe some learnings you've had yourself as a young worker or as a parent.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Letter from Lolo

I am not talking about a letter from my grandfather to me. Both my grandfathers passed away when I was very little and so I have no real memory of them.

This is about a letter that my father wrote to my eldest son 14 years ago, when my son was only a year old. A letter that was never sent... until recently.

You see, 14 years ago, my husband and I, with our then one-year old son, set out to start a new life in Canada, leaving behind our parents, siblings, relatives and friends in the Philippines. It was a difficult time as we said goodbye to the people who have been a big part of our lives since the day we were born. We have gone back and visited the Philippines a few times since, and the loneliness and difficulty of being thousands of miles apart have somehow faded – but never really went away.

Last April, my father passed away, after a five-year battle with cancer. My eldest Miguel, now 15, and youngest Gabriel, 13, saw their Lolo (grandpa) for the last time in February, when our entire family visited the Philippines once again as my dad's illness took a turn for the worst.

The letter was found yesterday, when my mom was cleaning out some things that belonged to my father. She saw the letter neatly folded and tucked away with all the other letters my boys had sent to their Lolo and Lola (grandma) and cousins through the years. She mailed it to us after she found it, thinking that's what my father would have wanted. As I write this, the letter is making its long journey to Canada so it may finally serve its intended purpose of reaching my son and delivering his Lolo's 14-year-old message.

Patience has never been my greatest virtue, and I couldn't wait for the letter to arrive in the mail so I asked my niece to send me a photo of the letter. I read it last night, and then I cried myself to sleep.

The two-page letter was an outpouring of my father's emotions, divulging his innermost thoughts about the day my family of three left for Canada. The stern disciplinarian, my father was never one to show his emotions and vulnerability in front of his children. That demeanour somehow changed and softened with every grandchild born to the family. The strict, authoritarian parent gradually peeled off his layers to reveal a loving, funny and overprotective grandfather.

"Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild," a Welsh proverb goes. I probably will not know how it feels to have a grandchild, until I have one of my own. But I know now how my father felt knowing his grandson will never truly know and feel the love flowing out of a grandparent – not physically anyway.

Reading my dad's letter addressed to his little "Miggy," which I have yet to translate to my son (it was written in Tagalog), I can't help but feel a pang of guilt for moving my children so far away from their grandparents. But my dad's words also gave me assurance that he understands and supports our decision. Despite the pain, despite the longing to hold his small grandson in his arms again, he knew that we made a good choice for our family.

With my father gone, the guilt of somehow depriving my boys of the love and pampering of a grandparent has resurfaced. But I take comfort in knowing that although we were thousands of miles apart, my children grew up knowing and loving their grandparents in the Philippines. I thank technology for that. When they were little, the exercise of writing and sending letters to their grandparents and their cousins excited them. The anticipation of getting letters from their distant family inspired them to write more. These exchanges eventually transitioned to the more instantly gratifying Facetime, Facebook and Skype communications. My boys grew up knowing their family in the Philippines so they were never strangers to one another.

I miss my father dearly. It breaks my heart every time I realize he is no longer on earth. It now breaks even more to realize how much it had pained him to live so far away from his grandchildren. I hope seeing his grandchildren for the last time had given him some level of happiness in his last moments. I wish I was able to spend more time with him. I wish I took more trips back to the Philippines than we did in the last 14 years. I wish my father is still here. All I have now are my memories, the fondest of which are those times when we would sit in the backyard talking about anything and everything.

If you are one of the lucky ones and your grandparents are still alive and well, give them a big hug and let them know how much you appreciate their love.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bangladesh and the battle of the brands

It seems the tragedy that beset Bangladesh when a garment factory building collapsed last week, killing more than 400 workers, isn’t over.  The country now faces the potential of a significant economic setback as a result of the horrific incident.

Western companies — many of them behind big commercial brand names — that outsource materials and products to Bangladesh are threatening to pull out their business if the country doesn’t shape up and improve working conditions in its factories.

As early as March, Walt Disney Company has started to pull the plug on Bangladesh when it sent a letter to thousands of its licensees and vendors effectively banning merchandise production in Bangladesh, according to a New York Times report.

Now, giant retailers like Gap, Walmart and The Children’s Place, are scrambling to enforce measures to improve working conditions at factories in Bangladesh. At this point, the options for these retailers are clear — find ways to improve labour conditions or cut their losses and leave.

What’s driving these decisions, and indecisions, unfortunately, does not have anything to do with a strong desire to rid the world of unscrupulous employers and free labourers from the bondage of slavery fueled by cheap labour and poor and unsafe working conditions.

In reality, the objective is less noble and more self-serving. For what’s driving these big companies to jump ship is their desire to keep a positive image for their brand. In theory, the consequence would be beneficial to workers in that side of the world as suppliers are forced to bring labour conditions to a higher standard, if they want to keep the business.

As we have recently witnessed in the deadly Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, reality does not always agree with theory. The Rana Plaza factory, that collapsed and killed hundreds of workers, is a contractor for Canada’s Loblaw Companies Ltd., manufacturing some of its Joe Fresh brand of clothing.

In a Reuters news report, Loblaw told reporters it regularly conducts audits of its suppliers to ensure its garments are manufactured responsibly, but focuses on labour practices and not building construction.

Now, any experienced health and safety professional will tell you part of determining sound labour practices is ensuring that workers are working in a healthy and safe environment. Obviously, that line was missing from the Loblaw audit checklist.

At the recent Partners in Prevention conference in Mississauga, Ont., chief executives from various Canadian organizations participated in the View from the Top panel that discussed the important role the organization’s leadership play in driving health and safety performance.

The incident in Bangladesh dominated part of the discussion. I asked the panel how, as a company that values and promotes a culture of safety across the organization, they are ensuring their organization’s standard for health and safety are extended throughout their supply chain.

It became evident by their answers that, despite their confidence and pride in their organization’s health and safety standards — the same standard they impose on their business partners — the tragedy in Bangladesh had been a reality check for them, particularly on their responsibility around the supply chain.

For many responsible organizations — whose purpose for doing the right thing is not only driven by the desire to keep their brand intact but a genuine intent to look after the well-being of their most important asset, their people — the Bangladesh tragedy is a wake-up call.

In a globalized economy, the economic, social and moral responsibilities of chief executives extend far beyond the four walls of their companies, to the supply chain, the contractors and the contractors’ contractors. This is the only way to ensure healthy and safe workplaces are not a privilege enjoyed only by some workers in some countries.

This is the only way we can achieve a world where workers no longer have to go to work to die.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Tejada tragedy: Less talk, more action, please

(Note: This post is written by guest blogger Kyle Arguelles of Manila, Philippines)

The unfortunate saga of Kristel Tejada tragic death continues. Tejada, a first-year Behavioural Sciences student at the University of the Philippines - Manila, committed suicide after severe depression caused by being forced to file a leave of absence from school because of financial problems and a P10,000 tuition debt with the University of the Philippines - Manila.

Much have been said about who is to blame or what could have been done to prevent this. Was Tejada's inability to stay in school the sole reason why she decided to end her life? Or was there an ongoing bout of depression or other psychological issues, and that school tuition problem was just the straw that broke the camel's back? Could the UP loan board have been more lenient with her and other students like her going through financial difficulties?

UP officials are even facing criminal charges by the Office of the Ombudsman as a direct result of Tejada's suicide. And because the Ombudsman's office is such a beacon for justice and hope for the poor, this is exactly the solution to this issue — NOT!

This being an election season, political candidates have also weighed in on the issue. Expressing disappointment over UP's handling of the student's debt, calling for more state funding for state universities and colleges, and expressing more strong disappointments.

Great! More strong words to fill up news holes, and more keywords to satisfy Google search engine spiders. But, as has been pointed out in a previous post: Where's the beef?

Has any of the congressional and senatorial candidates proposed any legislative measures to attempt to solve the country's education crisis? Yes, you know it's a crisis when people are dying over it!

Don't get me wrong, these potential legislators sharing their thoughts on the issue is an indication that this is important to them. My favourite senatorial candidate Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. (disclaimer: hey, I'm a blogger, I can show a little bit of bias) has called out the UP debt policy for what it actually is: "anti-poor." Rightly so, for after all, it was his father and namesake former President Magsaysay, who popularized and lived by the concept: those who have less in life should have more in law.

Other senatorial candidates have also weighed in. Chiz Escudero said he would push for more equal access to education. Pro-poor Party List Bayan Muna also had their say on the matter, as well as many other political candidates.

These statements are all well and good, but what they do with those sentiments once they're in office is, I believe, where the rubber meets the road. Less talking points, more action. Show me a candidate with a solid legislative plan for equal access to quality education and I will show you a winner — or at least, an ideal winner.

How about a piece of legislation that will set up a student loan program for qualified college students that will allow them to take out a low-interest loan from the government, which they can repay once they start working? I'm sure the details can be worked out by brilliant minds in the Senate. Simply increasing funding for state-run educational institutions, I think, will not achieve the objective of giving access to quality education for poor but deserving young students.

Why can't something like this program be implemented for students in the Philippines?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

University education to die for

Perhaps one of the saddest stories from the Philippines this week was from a 16-year old college student who took her own life, allegedly because she could no longer afford to pay her tuition.

Kristel Tejada, a freshman at the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM) taking up Behavioural Sciences, took her own life on March 15.

We also learned of events leading up to this student's tragic death that could have saved her from being pushed so far off the edge that the only way out for her was ending her life.

Tejada, the eldest of five siblings, had been having difficulty attending her classes since February because of "family and financial problems," a report from the Manila Times says. She had earlier applied for a tuition loan from the UPM's loan board, but was denied. She had to file for a leave of absence from school because she could no longer afford to pay her tuition. A few days later, Tejada ended her life.

Tejada's parents had told news site, Interaksyon, they had tried to negotiate for an extension with the university while they take out a loan against their house to help pay for the tuition. But the extension request was denied. The university has, since last year, implemented what is essentially a "no tuition no entry" policy for students.

The Philippine Collegian, the school paper of the University of the Philippines (UP), reports: "In November 2012, the UPM administration barred students who failed to pay tuition on time from being admitted to their classes. The said students were eventually allowed to attend their classes after a dialogue with UPM officials, but some students had already been forced to file for a LOA, according to reports from the Office of the Student Regent (SR)."

Funded by the national government, the University of the Philippines has been — at least in the olden days — one of the most prestigious universities in the Philippines. Because it provided subsidized yet quality education for low income families, it served as a beacon of hope for the Filipino youth, a reminder that their social status does not have to dictate their future and that they have an equal shot at a great education as the rich kids on the other side of town. UP was the epitome of the well-loved President Ramon Magsaysay credo: Those who have less in life should have more in law.

UP students were fondly called "Iskolar ng Bayan" (scholars of the people) — or so they have been. The series of tuition hikes at the state-run university in recent years have left many students struggling to stay enrolled.

What happened to Tejada crystallizes what education activists have long been calling for: access to quality, affordable education for those who have less in life. They fight for education as a right for all, not a privilege for a few. Rightly so, for no nation in the world has ever achieved greatness without the foundation of an educated citizenry.

This issue unfolding in the midst of a national elections could be bad or good for education advocates — depending on the calibre of political leaders dominating the polls in May.

This could be good because the story is front-page news material, and we know how politicians love to piggy back on the hottest issues of the day to get some media love — strongly condemning this, highly supporting that.

On the other hand, this could be bad in that this issue might just have a lifespan that ends on election day. It would take a genuine leader and public servant to take the issue of affordable education beyond the campaign rhetoric and into the halls of Congress and the Senate.

Equal access to quality, affordable education should be on the top agenda of every political party or candidate in this electoral race to effect meaningful change that will set the country in the right path towards sustainable progress.

And by "top agenda," I don't mean the press releases. 
President Ramon Magsaysay (1953-1957): "Those who have less in life should have more in law."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Where's the beef?

U.S. President Barack Obama's grassroots political campaign that
catapulted a once less known senator from Chicago to the highest office of the most powerful country in the world in just a few years may have set a precedent in the way political campaigns are being run today, not just in America but in other democratic countries as well.

Effective use of social media has been the key ingredient for Obama's successful campaign — both in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. The daily e-mail blasts, the viral YouTube videos, the Tweets, the Facebook posts were all effective tools the campaign used for its political messaging.

The Internet and various forms of social media are now a major — if not vital — battleground for political candidates in this 2013 national elections in the Philippines. This is very evident in the way these candidates are conducting their campaign. Go to any popular social networking sites and there's a good chance you will find many of these candidates. These new tools have provide an inexpensive platform for candidates to reach more voters.

There is no shortage of social networking activities for these candidates. What I feel is missing is the message. I find as a good source of news for what these candidates have been up to during this campaign season. And by the looks of it, not so much. There's not a lot of substance out there in terms of getting their agenda out and informing the public of what they plan to do for the country once elected.

These candidates' campaign teams may believe that with social media use, "the medium is the message." It's a concept popularized by Canadian philosopher of communication theory Marshall McLuhan, which means essentially that it's not what we say it, but how we say it that matters most. This is true, to some extent, but the medium still needs to carry some substance. Particularly true for the Internet realm, where people are bombarded constantly, and in real-time, with information from a wide range of sources and media vehicles.

In my next posts, I will be examining how these candidates are communicating their agenda to the voters over the Internet. Is there substance underneath all the social media blasts?

You can probably help me on this search. If you come across a Tweet, a Facebook post, YouTube video or any communication from this candidates via social media, let me know by e-mail or post a link on the Comments section.

Let's see if we can find out anything about the agenda of these political candidates through their social media posts and messages. The medium may be the message, but will the message stick?

Marshall McLuhan: The medium is the message