In a country where public transportation infrastructure is relatively underdeveloped, working the night shift is challenging. There are only two railway transport systems in the Philippines, and both of these are in the capital.
There were efforts to expand availability to other regions when the Duterte administration took over in 2016, but it’s safe to say that the government’s primary transportation offerings are still jeepneys and buses. Not that that’s a bad thing, but these certainly don’t help the horrible traffic in major cities.
Another issue that makes nighttime work in the Philippines difficult is the safety aspect. With more darkness can come more danger. The public perception is that police presence has increased during the Duterte administration, but some remote (and not-so-remote) residences with poor public lighting are easy targets for crime.
And then there’s the health aspect. It’s not natural for the human body to be awake the entire night and asleep during the day. Seasoned healthcare workers and tenured call center agents may have adapted to this way of living, but multiple studies have shown that this setup is detrimental to one’s long-term health.
Despite all these disadvantages, workers of the night shift continue to soldier on and make their bread. Before I discuss why I think night workers need more credit, allow me to share my experience working the night shift.
My Experience Working the Night Shift
Luckily for me, I didn’t have to work the night shift for too long. After I went through that curious blip of my work life, I gained a strong appreciation for just how strong and steady all the night workers I knew were. It was an experience that humbled me and something I would never want to go through again.
Not being in the healthcare sector, nor involved in a 24/7 industrial operation, it’s easy to guess that I worked as a call center agent when I experienced the night shift. And I was only put in the position because it so happened that one of my teammates went on maternity leave.
At first, I was happy to fill in—I always assumed that my brain would function normally when I did eventually try out the night shift.
But boy, was I wrong. The shift usually started at 11 p.m., and at that point, I had gotten used to being mentally active because of law school, which for me finished at 9:30 p.m. Studying for at least a couple of hours before bed was essential for my grades’ survival, so keeping myself sharp through midnight wasn’t too much of a challenge.
But then, 1:00 a.m. would start creeping in, and the first signs of yawning and eye-drooping would surface. At this point of the nine-hour shift, the sleepiness was manageable. I could just walk it off, refill my tumbler with vending machine coffee, and return to my cubicle as good as new.
2:30 a.m. was the tipping point. And by tipping point, I mean that I was highly susceptible to tipping my chin down toward my desk while in the middle of a customer call. Walking to the vending machine and back, no matter how many times, wasn’t going to help.
At this point, the strategy to stay awake was to engage with your teammates. There were about 10 of us in the group, so this wasn’t so hard to do. At least one member of the group had to provide a constant stream of jokes, or else someone would reach the tipping point. This was a crucial period.
5:00 a.m. was the point of no return. This was often an hour or two from the mid-shift "lunch" break, so my stomach wouldn't be any help in keeping myself awake. It was stealing my much-needed blood supply. This is when I really had to fight the urge to sleep. I don’t care how tenured an employee you are in the call center business; after the meal break, it’s impossible to regain the same mental energy you had earlier in the shift.
At 7:00 a.m., I became exceedingly thankful—I had braved the first eight hours and only one hour remained before I could clock out. The last hour is either the fastest or the slowest hour you’ll experience in the night shift. It’s the fastest when you "sprint" and you do as many calls or tasks as you can, and it’s the slowest when you start counting down the minutes until your shift is over. (Do not do this.)
At last, 8:00 a.m. would arrive—I would clock out and go outside. The sky would torture me with glaring sunlight. I would immediately be reminded that I should probably look for a job that starts—instead of ends—in the morning.
How Are Night Workers Paid in the Philippines?
The Labor Code of the Philippines provides a Night Shift Differential Premium to all employees:
Art. 86. NIGHT SHIFT DIFFERENTIAL
Every employee shall be paid a night shift differential of not less than ten percent (10%) of his regular wage for each hour of work performed between ten o’clock in the evening and six o’clock in the morning.
Companies, especially those in the Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) sector, approach this mandate in various ways. Some offer more than the minimum 10 percent so as to entice workers and gain a competitive advantage. Some integrate the premium into the base salary, providing higher pay to night workers compared to day workers.
And, of course, some shrewd ones make sure they only pay for the night shift hours worked—that is, hours worked between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. In my case, I wasn’t entitled to a night shift differential for the last two hours of my shift, 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.
Workplace Hazards: Safety and Health
As mentioned earlier, employee health and safety conditions can be inherently worse for someone who works at night compared to a regular day worker. Aside from the higher rate of crime at night, there’s also the issue of accidents going to and from work.
These road accidents don’t have to be caused by the workers themselves. Nightclubs and bars operate at night, and you can expect drunk drivers to roam the streets at these hours.
When it comes to worker health, I don’t know if it’s the stress culture or the night shift that causes more people to turn to tobacco. There’s no definitive data on this yet, but night work can sometimes be associated with a higher likelihood of being a smoker.
The Impact of Night Workers on the Philippine Economy
The people who work at night—healthcare workers, factory workers, call center agents, etc.—are all crucial to the country’s society and economy. But just in terms of the economy, the BPO sector as a multi-billion-dollar industry accounts for as much as eight percent of the country’s GDP.
Countries that are known to outsource their work to the Philippines include the United States, the U.K., Australia, and Japan. For the U.S. and U.K., that ultimately means most of the outsourced workers have to work the graveyard shift in order to serve customers in these countries.
Not only do we get a good portion of our GDP from night-shift workers, but more outsourced work also means more direct foreign investments. As the country is known for relatively low wages and tax breaks for newly established foreign corporations, we can see the impact of our night workers beyond the direct dollars paid by foreign companies in worker salaries.
Efforts by Employers
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was the BPO industry that spearheaded providing shuttle services to its employees, especially those working at night. Transportation was already difficult before the pandemic, but the 2020 lockdowns caused so much of the public transport market to shrink.
Aside from providing shuttle services, BPO companies are known to provide several performance incentives. Already providing above-market wages, the minimum often way beyond minimum wage, these companies who mainly operate at night give more reasons for their workers to show up, and they attract workers from other industries.
The thing that companies operating predominantly at night can do to offer more help to their workers is to provide more mental health assistance benefits or services. Working at night is hard in itself—the work handled, which is mostly customer-facing, causes a lot of stress. While it’s easy to be numb and desensitized to stressful work, a stressed-out employee deserves a lot of concern.
What Can the Government Do to Help?
If you ask me, my immediate answer would be to attract more companies from countries with similar time zones. Investment and outsourcing from Australia and New Zealand have certainly helped the sector become less of a night-only industry.
I remember a time when only an American investment bank and a telecommunications company outsourced to the country. There were barely any day shifts available to call center agents.
For our healthcare personnel and industrial workers who work at night, in any case, the government can provide more special treatment. Nurses continue to be notoriously underpaid and overworked in the country, so it's no surprise that many aim to eventually work abroad, even in countries that are not particularly friendly to Christians.
The government can finally do its job and establish fairer wages for our nurses—haven’t we seen enough during the pandemic?
Night workers deserve preferential treatment because of the inherent disadvantages that come with working at night. To quote Principle of Labor Legislation by Commons and Andrews:
"Night work cannot be regarded as desirable, either from the point of view of the employer or the wage earned . . . The lack of sunlight tends to produce anemia and tuberculosis and to predispose other ills . . . Wherever it had been abolished, in the long run the efficiency both of the management and of the workers was raised. Furthermore, it was found that night work laws are a valuable aid in enforcing acts fixing the maximum period of employment."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.