Tech Maintenance Workers and the Philippines

In Bianca Aguilar’s piece Make Space for Maintenance, she discusses the role of maintenance workers” in the technology industry. Maintenance work includes anything that enables systems to keep running by taking care of their parts. Examples of maintenance work in the tech industry include customer support, quality assurance, and content moderation.

This is contrasted with the creative work of knowledge workers like entrepreners, engineers, designers, etc.

She explains the hierarchical, extractive, and exploitative relationship between the Western creative class and the maintenance workers commonly hailing from former Western Colonies in Southeast Asia such as the Philippines:

One of the most impacted nations is the Philippines, which is both the country that has spent the most time online in the world and a top destination for outsourcing labor. However, the Philippines’ high-tech reputation has been built on a foundation of abuse. For instance, during COVID-19, call center agents have to work in-person without proper social distancing protocols or protective equipment. They are forced to sleep at the office to work in American time zones. Meanwhile, content moderators review images, videos, and posts from all over the world, exposing them to a whole spectrum of violence from suicide attempts to extremist murders. Finally, workers aren’t the only ones who’ve suffered from tech’s collateral damage. Most people in the Philippines only have access to Facebook, and not the entire Internet, which has left them vulnerable to fake news and radicalization.

Amidst this chaos, the Philippines continues to grow as a source of talent for international tech companies. Founder Oliver Segovia writes that Silicon Valley is turning young Filipino workers who might have been satisfied with a call center job a decade ago into a creative and entrepreneurial class seeking a deeper connection with innovation-driven and mission-focused companies.” But is such a relationship possible when Silicon Valley remains obsessed with first world problems? In the end, the development tech brings to the Philippines remains extractive: gentrification has been taking over cities, while brain drain has been taking away people. Lacking resources, the country has no choice but to continue being codependent. True change will not happen in the hands of the colonizers.
April 15, 2021

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