Manila’s newest efficiency: Co-living cuts down on commuting time

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Philippines has been the scene of what can be called a “social revolution” in recent years. Spurred by the growth of new industries and opportunities, the younger generation of Filipinos has applied newly found skills and knowledge to earn a living at a level unseen in the past decades.

Bonifacio Global City Skyline. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Marc Henrich Go
Bonifacio Global City Skyline. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Marc Henrich Go

by Dan Murphy

According to the World Bank, the average wage in the Philippines has doubled in the past ten years from a paltry 6,300 pesos ($136.50) a month to over 13,000 a month in 2015. This growth in purchasing power, particularly among the younger generation between 22 and 30, has resulted in a rise in consumerism and luxury spending. Sparked by the boom of BPO companies, real estate developments and other industries, Filipinos are splurging on branded clothing, car loans and down payments for homes. The ever-growing metropolis of Metro Manila has seen financial districts such as Bonifacio Global City (BGC) spring into a lively center for business, shopping and cuisine. Packed with 20-something young professionals, BGC, i.e. The Fort, has become ground zero for the flourishing BPO industry as multinational corporations look to outsource their IT, legal, accounting and other services to a lower-cost market. However, in an industry known for its above-average wages and high-intensity work environment, many Filipinos find themselves strained to adjust themselves to the stress-filled jobs. In addition to the demanding work, most young employees find themselves commuting across the metro area for hours to get to work and returning home in twilight.

Burgeoning bourgeoisie 

BGC is known as the “happening place” in Metro Manila. The height of millennial aspiration lifestyle in the Philippines, previously home to the local headquarters of the US military and then the Philippine Army, the land now lies on a stretch that was privatised in 1995. With major development headed by Ayala Land Inc, BGC transformed into a residential area for those who can afford the rent, i.e. predominantly middle-class Filipinos and expats. Highlighted by the shopping district of Bonifacio High Street and the high-end apartment complexes such as Pacific Plaza Towers and One McKinley Place, The Fort has become the embodiment of the Filipino vision for a progressive and affluent future. Equally impressive are the towering skyscrapers filled with thousands of local employees, operating around the clock to accommodate the demands of the global economy that they are now a part of.

Restaurats and bars scattered across the Fort continue to attract locals and expats alike Photo: Imran Saddique
Restaurats and bars scattered across the Fort continue to attract locals and expats alike Photo: Imran Saddique

However, the young men and women who fill these offices often find themselves in a daily struggle to live a comfortable and relaxing life. Investvine took to the streets to hear the stories of those young professionals working in the BPO industry in BGC, and to learn whether working at a BPO is really the dream job it is said to be.

Daily drudgery

At 5pm on a Wednesday I wandered over to a Jeepney stand outside the Market!Market! shopping complex at the outskirts of BGC. As I made my way through the line of nearly 200 commuters waiting to head home, I approached a group of four young men and women who had just got off work at a BPO nearby. I asked the group where they lived. Mary Dawn, a 24-year-old human resources employee in the BPO department of a Canadian multinational, said that she resided in the Fairview District (locally mocked as farview due to the lengthy journey from the central business district) of Quezon City. I asked her what her daily routine was getting to and from work.

Every morning Mary Dawn leaves her family home in Quezon City at 5.30am to get to her office for the 8am-5pm shift. She leaves a bit earlier than she needs in order to beat the traffic and enjoy a coffee at Starbucks before her day gets started. Her typical commute involves taking a trike to the bus station, a typical one- to 1.5-hour bus ride packed with workers such as herself, and a final Jeepney ride to Market!Market!. Her trip home is much of the same, arriving home around 8pm after enduring the stifling rush hour traffic. In total, that is an average of almost five hours of daily commuting. From the time Mary Dawn leaves her home and returns, some 14 hours have passed. Her story is not unique. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos experience this daily grind to work at the companies that offer the best wages. When I asked Mary Dawn if she would like to live in BGC in order to eliminate her commute she said, “sure, of course, I love it here”. When I asked her why she does not, she simply said, “it’s too expensive”.

Bonifacio High Street - A hip commercial and business complex in Fort Bonifacio Photo: Imran Saddique
Bonifacio High Street – A hip commercial and business complex in Fort Bonifacio Photo: Imran Saddique

The average entry-level BPO worker earns roughly 20,000 pesos a month, substantially more than the mentioned average salary of 13,000 pesos a month in the Philippines. Conversely, the average monthly rent for an apartment in BGC is 24,000 pesos a month, utilities excluded. As expected, very few of the hard-working middle class Filipinos can live where they work. As a result, many of them are forced to endure a grueling commute day in and day out to make an honest living. As Mary Dawn explained, this has a negative impact on not only her personal life, but also her performance on the job. With 14 hours of her day consumed by working and commuting, it is understandable that exhaustion and personal frustration take their toll. The question that remains is, how can this problem be solved? And whose responsibility is it?

Should employers be accountable for the well-being and relative happiness of their employees? The obvious answer should be yes. But the answer is not so black-and-white. Naturally, employers should be responsible for their employees, but to what extent? Indeed the well-being of employees reaps benefits for not just them, but for employers as well. A well-rested and energetic employee will yield much more productivity than one who got five hours of sleep and spent four hours in traffic. And from a standpoint of monetary feasibility, an employer is in a much stronger position to improve the lives of their employees than the other way round.

Take the example of Japanese company KLab Cyscorpion, a mobile Internet services provider. KLab partnered with a local real-estate developer MyTown Philippines to provide comfortable work-week housing for its employees. For 16,000 pesos a month, an employer can house four employees at a MyTown apartment. MyTown’s simple concept combines the comfort, community feeling and amenities of a college dormitory with the convenience of a location within BGC. With its flagship 688-bed complex, “MyTown New York”, set to launch on April 22nd, the developer hopes to kick off a trend where Filipino companies put the well-being of their employees at the forefront of their initiatives.

The emergence of new opportunities has led to a surging middle class in the Philippines. Young Filipinos now have financial power that they haven’t had in the past, and much of that is owing to vibrant sectors such as the BPO industry which continues to experience unprecedented growth. Employees have shown that they are willing to endure hardships and literally give everything they can to take advantage of this opportunity. Thus, is it not time for the employers who benefit from the fruits of Filipino labour to give back to those that work so hard for them?

 

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Philippines has been the scene of what can be called a “social revolution” in recent years. Spurred by the growth of new industries and opportunities, the younger generation of Filipinos has applied newly found skills and knowledge to earn a living at a level unseen in the past decades.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Philippines has been the scene of what can be called a “social revolution” in recent years. Spurred by the growth of new industries and opportunities, the younger generation of Filipinos has applied newly found skills and knowledge to earn a living at a level unseen in the past decades.

Bonifacio Global City Skyline. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Marc Henrich Go
Bonifacio Global City Skyline. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Marc Henrich Go

by Dan Murphy

According to the World Bank, the average wage in the Philippines has doubled in the past ten years from a paltry 6,300 pesos ($136.50) a month to over 13,000 a month in 2015. This growth in purchasing power, particularly among the younger generation between 22 and 30, has resulted in a rise in consumerism and luxury spending. Sparked by the boom of BPO companies, real estate developments and other industries, Filipinos are splurging on branded clothing, car loans and down payments for homes. The ever-growing metropolis of Metro Manila has seen financial districts such as Bonifacio Global City (BGC) spring into a lively center for business, shopping and cuisine. Packed with 20-something young professionals, BGC, i.e. The Fort, has become ground zero for the flourishing BPO industry as multinational corporations look to outsource their IT, legal, accounting and other services to a lower-cost market. However, in an industry known for its above-average wages and high-intensity work environment, many Filipinos find themselves strained to adjust themselves to the stress-filled jobs. In addition to the demanding work, most young employees find themselves commuting across the metro area for hours to get to work and returning home in twilight.

Burgeoning bourgeoisie 

BGC is known as the “happening place” in Metro Manila. The height of millennial aspiration lifestyle in the Philippines, previously home to the local headquarters of the US military and then the Philippine Army, the land now lies on a stretch that was privatised in 1995. With major development headed by Ayala Land Inc, BGC transformed into a residential area for those who can afford the rent, i.e. predominantly middle-class Filipinos and expats. Highlighted by the shopping district of Bonifacio High Street and the high-end apartment complexes such as Pacific Plaza Towers and One McKinley Place, The Fort has become the embodiment of the Filipino vision for a progressive and affluent future. Equally impressive are the towering skyscrapers filled with thousands of local employees, operating around the clock to accommodate the demands of the global economy that they are now a part of.

Restaurats and bars scattered across the Fort continue to attract locals and expats alike Photo: Imran Saddique
Restaurats and bars scattered across the Fort continue to attract locals and expats alike Photo: Imran Saddique

However, the young men and women who fill these offices often find themselves in a daily struggle to live a comfortable and relaxing life. Investvine took to the streets to hear the stories of those young professionals working in the BPO industry in BGC, and to learn whether working at a BPO is really the dream job it is said to be.

Daily drudgery

At 5pm on a Wednesday I wandered over to a Jeepney stand outside the Market!Market! shopping complex at the outskirts of BGC. As I made my way through the line of nearly 200 commuters waiting to head home, I approached a group of four young men and women who had just got off work at a BPO nearby. I asked the group where they lived. Mary Dawn, a 24-year-old human resources employee in the BPO department of a Canadian multinational, said that she resided in the Fairview District (locally mocked as farview due to the lengthy journey from the central business district) of Quezon City. I asked her what her daily routine was getting to and from work.

Every morning Mary Dawn leaves her family home in Quezon City at 5.30am to get to her office for the 8am-5pm shift. She leaves a bit earlier than she needs in order to beat the traffic and enjoy a coffee at Starbucks before her day gets started. Her typical commute involves taking a trike to the bus station, a typical one- to 1.5-hour bus ride packed with workers such as herself, and a final Jeepney ride to Market!Market!. Her trip home is much of the same, arriving home around 8pm after enduring the stifling rush hour traffic. In total, that is an average of almost five hours of daily commuting. From the time Mary Dawn leaves her home and returns, some 14 hours have passed. Her story is not unique. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos experience this daily grind to work at the companies that offer the best wages. When I asked Mary Dawn if she would like to live in BGC in order to eliminate her commute she said, “sure, of course, I love it here”. When I asked her why she does not, she simply said, “it’s too expensive”.

Bonifacio High Street - A hip commercial and business complex in Fort Bonifacio Photo: Imran Saddique
Bonifacio High Street – A hip commercial and business complex in Fort Bonifacio Photo: Imran Saddique

The average entry-level BPO worker earns roughly 20,000 pesos a month, substantially more than the mentioned average salary of 13,000 pesos a month in the Philippines. Conversely, the average monthly rent for an apartment in BGC is 24,000 pesos a month, utilities excluded. As expected, very few of the hard-working middle class Filipinos can live where they work. As a result, many of them are forced to endure a grueling commute day in and day out to make an honest living. As Mary Dawn explained, this has a negative impact on not only her personal life, but also her performance on the job. With 14 hours of her day consumed by working and commuting, it is understandable that exhaustion and personal frustration take their toll. The question that remains is, how can this problem be solved? And whose responsibility is it?

Should employers be accountable for the well-being and relative happiness of their employees? The obvious answer should be yes. But the answer is not so black-and-white. Naturally, employers should be responsible for their employees, but to what extent? Indeed the well-being of employees reaps benefits for not just them, but for employers as well. A well-rested and energetic employee will yield much more productivity than one who got five hours of sleep and spent four hours in traffic. And from a standpoint of monetary feasibility, an employer is in a much stronger position to improve the lives of their employees than the other way round.

Take the example of Japanese company KLab Cyscorpion, a mobile Internet services provider. KLab partnered with a local real-estate developer MyTown Philippines to provide comfortable work-week housing for its employees. For 16,000 pesos a month, an employer can house four employees at a MyTown apartment. MyTown’s simple concept combines the comfort, community feeling and amenities of a college dormitory with the convenience of a location within BGC. With its flagship 688-bed complex, “MyTown New York”, set to launch on April 22nd, the developer hopes to kick off a trend where Filipino companies put the well-being of their employees at the forefront of their initiatives.

The emergence of new opportunities has led to a surging middle class in the Philippines. Young Filipinos now have financial power that they haven’t had in the past, and much of that is owing to vibrant sectors such as the BPO industry which continues to experience unprecedented growth. Employees have shown that they are willing to endure hardships and literally give everything they can to take advantage of this opportunity. Thus, is it not time for the employers who benefit from the fruits of Filipino labour to give back to those that work so hard for them?

 

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