The Worker Savings Program: Building Futures for the Builders
By Amy Harris
Working for All Hands Volunteers has meant many firsts for Ian. Still in his early twenties, Ian had not previously worked in construction. He had never worked alongside international volunteers. And until the Worker Savings Program began, he had never before saved money. The chance to do so was a unique opportunity, and it’s one of the many reasons that he likes working for All Hands.
The idea of helping workers save money began when the Project CDO cement supplier offered to provide masonry training to All Hands’ local workers. Program Manager Paul Raddant was intrigued. “One of the duties of my position is to build capacity in our workforce,” he stated. “We don’t want to just hand our workers their last day of pay and pull out, leaving them with no prospects. When All Hands leaves, we want to leave something behind.” After talking with many of the workers, however, Paul was surprised to discover that barely half were interested in the masonry training—the other half were more interested in rebuilding the professions they’d held prior to Typhoon Sendong.
Paul realized that what these workers really needed was capital. When he floated the idea of helping All Hands construction staff save money for when the project ends, the workers were tremendously enthusiastic. The All Hands staff determined that workers would save toward a tangible goal, rather than a dollar amount. This was not only for the benefit of the workers—because having an actual goal makes saving easier—but also to allow All Hands to measure their success in results rather than dollars when the project ends. In addition, the savings money would be withdrawn pre-paycheck each week. Paul says, “The reason we started this program is because the workers don’t get paid very much, and we pay them in cash. Living on a shoestring, it is almost impossible to budget when you have the cash in hand. Having money withheld makes their lives easier when it comes to budgeting, and they have all expressed that.”
In addition to being able to help the workers save for the future, there are other, more immediate benefits to the savings program. “A lot of these guys really live on a knife’s edge financially—it doesn’t take much to throw everything off,” says Project Director Chris Turner. “There have been a lot of cases where someone has had to take a sick child to the hospital, or has had another emergency. This program can help them pay for that without going into debt.”
Like Ian, very few workers had any experience saving money. To educate the workers about how to save—and why it’s important—the program kicked off in September 2012 with a Budgeting 101 workshop led by volunteer Joe Connelly. Workers, together with their families, figured out how much they made, what they spent it on, and what their budget looked like over the course of a week. Then, in one-on-one counseling sessions with All Hands staff, each worker determined how much he wanted withheld in savings each week.
Though the full success of the program won’t be measured until after Project CDO ends, so far signs are encouraging. More than 75 percent of the workers are participating in the savings program, such as Cocoy, who is very successfully saving while supporting a wife and family. His hope, he says, is that when Project CDO ends, he will have enough saved to buy a motorized tricycle—one of the most popular forms of transportation in the Philippines. He plans to use his trike to sell fish around the recently expanded Cala’anan relocation community, a neighborhood that has been his home for 18 years.
“Many of the workers could probably earn more if they were working in another job,” Paul notes. “As many of our workers have expressed, they choose to continue working with All Hands because they feel a certain responsibility to see the project out. It’s important to them to be part of the reconstruction process, because most of our workers were victims, or were directly affected in some way. Providing incentives like the Worker Savings Program is a way that we can build capacity, while showing our team that we appreciate the work they’re doing with us.”