Friday, May 1, 2009


Thousands of Filipinos queueing up outside a mall during a job fair on May Day. (Reuters)

MayDay! MayDay! This is the SOS distress cry that's reverberating around the world – from North Africa which has an unemployment rate of 10.3% to Australia with 5.2%. This surely must be the longest labour pain on record – more than a year and still no signs of abating. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned that 50 million people would lose their jobs this year if the global recession continues.

There’s not much for workers to cheer about on this day. If anything, hundreds of thousands are taking to the streets across Asia and Europe to protest against job cuts, wage cuts, loss of compensation and employment benefits. In Germany, an estimated 69,000 jobs were axed in March alone. In the US, close to 700,000 people joined the ranks of the unemployed in the same period.

Protestors in Moscow call for a return to communism. (AFP)

In Singapore, the jobless rate for March hit a 5-year high of 4.8% with 12,600 redundancies in the first quarter of 2009. In Malaysia, the situation is not much better with more than 32,000 job losses between October 2008 to April 2009. While all sectors are affected by the job cuts and retrenchment, voluntary or otherwise, it is the less skilled, less educated and older workers who are the most vulnerable. Even those in their 40s do not feel secure about their jobs. Once they are out of the work force, it's not easy get back in unless the economy improves.

Singaporean, Gilbert Goh, is no stranger to this predicament. "At the age of 47, I too face mammoth pressure in securing employment in a hiring practice that borders on discriminatory". In the Klang Valley, the number of older taxi-drivers has surged, as has the number of sole proprietorships and online businesses. These are among the few options open to older retrenched workers in Malaysia. For others like Tony Loh, 50, busking in the busy Orchard Road underpath helps to bring in some much needed cash to feed the family.

In tough times like these, pride should be tossed aside. As long as it's an honest living, we can hold ourselves with dignity in what we have to do to make ends meet. The key is to remain resilient and resourceful. The current economic downturn offers plenty of lessons to be learned and new opportunities to take advantage of. Let's not waste it.

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