Thursday, February 14, 2013

You Will Always Be Dispensable

     Winter season has always been a hard time for factories.  Sales go down or absent.  I've seen companies seasonally close after Autumn and reopen during Spring.  I've also seen some companies that open only during Winter (calendar making factories, especially).
     My previous years here in Korea taught me a lesson not everyone accepts:  You will always be dispensable.  Many of my acquaintances got their head too big, claiming the factory will not last long without him/her.  Or at least the boss will go through a difficult time without him/her.
     Again, I have to keep telling this to everyone including myself:  You will always be dispensable.
     On the past companies I've worked for, Winter is a fearful season (and month of May, for some reason).  Every year, the company cuts down the numbers of workers for about 30%.  That affects mostly foreign workers.  The locals are safe from this (I'll talk about this on another blog).  To me, I realize it is painful but it's just how it is.  If I were to put myself on the boss's place, I wouldn't be paying someone without getting enough of the benefit from it.  So yes, I understand this process.  Most of the people I worked with, just think it's appalling.  
     What's appalling to me is how the superiors cull their workers.  From almost all the electronics companies (I worked with about 5 electronics/cellphone factories), it's a competition of kissing ass.  I see many excellent workers go out the door, because they can't speak Korean to save their life... or job.  I once participated in this battle of kissing ass.  But I got tired of it very fast.  When I was young, I never really needed to kiss my teachers's asses.  I had decent grades to make me go through school.  Outside school, I never really needed to kiss anyone's ass too.  I can dance, sing, and act, the hell out of the competition.  But coming here to Korea to work, to actually do labor (something that was foreign to me), despite the efforts and quality of work I offer, it's outshined by those who are skilled at kissing ass.
     "Daig ng sipsip ang masipag."  A common Filipino phrase uttered by the bitter, and shunned by the guilty, at my former work places.  It means, "The nose browners are greater than the industrious."  I often find it true.  And with that on mind, I often resent the phrase, "work smart, not hard."
     Yet... such is the way of life.  This fact is one of the biggest reasons why I forced myself to learn Korean language as fast as I can.  I may not be fond of the kissing-ass game, but I pretty damn sure will put up a fight, when it comes to that.

     Years have passed and I finally found a company I'm happy to work for.  A boss that I love and I think he love's me back.  Sometimes I joke around that I'm the golden child (big head alert!).  But let me tell you a long story before you judge me.  Keep in mind that I came from companies populated with a huge number of workers, fighting for their jobs every year... by kissing ass.

     There should be a preface before this but it's another long story.  Just to keep it shorter, I got rid of the pesky Filipino worker who wanted to get rid of me.  In return, I took his place.  The golden child.

     The company I work for is small.  Just a few of the locals and most of the year, I'm the only foreigner working with them.  In the earlier years, they get to employ more Filipinos as our output demands it.  But as I said earlier, a lot of companies get negatively affected by the cold season.  My company is no exception.  I'll mention the things that happened with regards to me and the other Filipino employees here.
  • One or more would be selectively be fired.  But the boss tries to find another company with an opening for him/her/them.  The ex-employees will have the final say, whether to take the job offered or look for others themselves.
  • Workers who gave very bad impressions are automatically on the "soon to be fired" list.  And the boss wouldn't even bother to look for a job for them.  The boss gets offended most when
  1. While still a current employee, he sets out to audition on another company.
  2. When the worker threatens to leave because there's another company offering a better salary.
  3. When the worker repetitively mentions what his salary should be (most of the time, impossible claims like a $300 raise after a month).
  4. When the worker keeps demanding for compensations (one of them kept asking for pizza-chicken-drinks whenever we have to work overtime).
  5. I have my ways of communicating with the officials.  It's unsightly and often misconstrued to be rude.  Anyone else who tries to do the same will surely be on that list.
  • Most of the time, they'd let the ex-worker live in their respective rooms for a while.  Just to help them out while looking for another job.  But if they offended one of the superiors, they'd be threatened out of the vicinity overnight (happened a couple of times).
  • Some would be given the option to stay for a while (not working and unpaid), and can freely look for another job, but will be top priority to be re-hired.  Or offered some days of temp-job within the company... at least until they're ready to take him back on a monthly basis.
     So where do I stand on this?  I am the exception of them all.  I was never fired.  Never sent for an unpaid vacation.  I get paid every month despite the lack of output.  There were some times when I didn't even work for a whole month, and I still got paid full.  There was one time when the company got a bit desperate, that they lent me to another company.  Horrible experience, but I still have a job, I still got paid.  This is why I often claim, "I'm the golden child."  And this is when some Filipino co-workers dig their hole deep.  One more thing that offends the boss is when they compare themselves to me (or my status at the company).  Whenever a new guy gets employed, I make sure to tell them not to compare themselves to me.  It's not about entitlement.  It's more about making them realize that: the fact is, I'm still and will always be, the guy who worked years (for the boss) ahead of them.  But they seem to keep forgetting that after a while.  Or even not, they get over their head when they think they kissed enough ass.  At the end of the day, I'm still the last Filipino left standing here.

     But that doesn't mean my living and working conditions are all rainbows and cupcakes.  I think one of the reasons why the boss kept me for so long is because I withstood so much abuse from this place.  From fellow workers (locals), from my superiors, and from laborious work.  Hell, I can't count the times I've had verbal arguments with the boss's right hand.  And it's always a challenge of patience and humility whenever there's a new guy, especially if he's a local.  For so many times, I greatly considered quitting.  But I'm still here.

     Many things happened last year.  A lot of drama and tears and happiness.  But let me talk about the mid of 2012's Winter...
     As I said, there comes a time when we don't work for days or even more than a week.  There are times when my superior (besides the boss, I only recognize one person to be my superior, who happens to be the boss's right hand) sends me back to my room while a few of them work.  At times, I get to work while some just roam around aimlessly.  This is typical during Winter season.
     January of 2013, and production is as low as it was.  I get so much rest days, that I get very uneasy.  I start craving for work.
     February.  With the long holiday (Lunar New Year), it's inevitable to just take 5 days off work.  Before that, there wasn't much to do.  For many days, I was in charge of... nothing or anything.  After the long holiday, I was glad that my superior knocked at my door, telling me "work will resume" on the 14th.
     February 14, morning.  I went to work very happy and full of energy.  I was glad that we start at my department.  My favorite working place.  It's in my department where I take the most control (aside from my superior, I'm the only one who can effectively operate the machines in this department), and in charge of almost everything.
     February 14, about 10 am.  I realized I only had the day to work on my department.  A short day even (I'd be done with them all at 3 pm).  But I'm still happy that I got a day to show the boss what he's paying me for.
     February 14, lunch break.  The boss had me fetched for a meeting.  I assumed it was payday 'cause he does have a habit of releasing our salary, a day or two, early.  At the conference room, he asked me to sit down... a sign of bad news.  But then he waited for everyone else and asked everyone to sit down and pay attention.  I didn't know whether it's bad news or good news but this is a sign of a huge news (this happened only twice before).
     It was bad news.  I understood just a couple of what the boss said, as he explained how the company is suffering from lack of orders from all the buyers.  He then explained that he opted not to fire anyone of us (I'm the only foreigner this time), instead, came to the ultimate decision of cutting back our salary... 30%... for an estimate of 2 months.
     My superior reacted first.  He strongly (but very humbly) asked if he is included with this cut.  The boss repeated his explanation of his choice between firing someone or cutting everyone's salary.  Everyone agreed that we happen to be just the right number of workers.  Enough to make the company run smoothly.
     What surprised me was the other official-- the old guy.  He pointed at me and asked (quite aggressively) if I was included with this cut.  Why?  I don't know.  But having to work with him, I suspect it was an angle for something.  He's a very strategic person.  Alas, the boss said we are all affected.  But then the old guy started protesting and even went as far as exclaiming how long we worked for him.  On a side note-- the rest of the employees was taken aback as the old guy announced how many years I've worked for this company.
     Then the old guy tried to argue with the amount of cut on our salary.  Trying to haggle to 20%.  At this point, I can tell the boss is really annoyed.  He then firmly said 30% for 2 months is "just right" and it could be for a shorter time.
... in my experience, the boss usually estimates maximum damage.

     To be honest, I'm not so bummed by the news.  Well, it did sink in when I found out how much 30% in cash terms was.  But still...  If compared to the alternative (me getting fired or an unpaid vacation), this is still a better option.  I reflect back on the previous companies I worked for, and I realize I'm still lucky.  The thing is, this doesn't mean I'll be working regular hours and days and still get that minuscule pay.  There just isn't much work to be done and that's the root cause of our salary adjustment.  And I think I'll take this one rather than be "lent" to another company, where they'll squeeze the hell out of their pay out of me.  And since I'm in a good mood today, I'd like to keep my hopes up.  I believe in my boss.  I believe that this company will survive and come back to its normalcy.  I just hope that the coming 2 months pay will satisfy me.

     February 14, afternoon.  After getting my pay (in full this time), my superior informed me that work will again resume (on another department) on Monday.  I have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, for my self.  This made me work only 3 days in the span of 3 weeks... and I still got more than I worked for.  I don't think I'm doing worse at all.
... But the start of the next 2 months hasn't arrived yet.  All I have for now is hope.

So?  Still think I'm not the golden child?

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