State Employees Demand P3,000 Pay Increase, Unpaid COLA

Government employees are overworked and underpaid. Their security of tenure is threatened by reengineering and privatization schemes. Worse, they have no right to strike or undertake collective action. But now they are fighting back.

By Karl G. Ombion

Bacolod City – The government is the biggest employer in the country. According to official records, government employees number almost a million and half. National line agencies, with the exception of the Department of Education (DepEd), employ the most number of people with 959,966. But the single biggest block of government employees are under the DepEd with 850,445 employees, including 439,518 public school teachers. The rest are found in local government units (LGUs), and in government-owned and controlled-corporations (GOCCs).

State employees are classified into career and non-career. Career employees are those who enter the public service through their own merits and qualifications, passing the interviews and appropriate tests, and with civil service eligibility. The non-career employees are those who enter the service without necessarily going through the standard qualification requirements. Most of them are in the lowest rung, mostly casual and contractual employees, and political appointees.

Those with career status account for 85 percent of all government employees. Most of them belong to salary grades (SG) 11 to 23, the rest 24 and above.

Non-career employees constitute 15 percent of the employees. Majority of them however belong to salary grade 10 and below, receiving a salary of P9,939 (US$181.57 at $1=Php 54.74). They are the rank and file employees, performing most of the technical, clerical and messengerial work.

Below are tables showing the distribution of government employees by employer or divisions.

Numerous problems

Employment in government is no longer the stable job that previous generations knew it to be.

Government employees suffer from low salaries and inadequate benefits. While entry level salaries may seem high compared to those from the private sector, government employees are usually stuck to a salary grade level for years.

A public school teacher, for example, may be stuck to salary grade level 10, the entry level for public school teachers, for 20 years. Most of their benefits are dependent on the savings generated by their agency. The hazard pay for those in front line work in critical areas is inadequate. They are not given overtime pay even if they are required to work during weekends. Their pension is very low. Government housing is expensive, if at all existent.

A qualified, civil service eligible government employee used to be assured of employment till s/he retires. But in recent times, their security of tenure is threatened by streamlining, merging, reorganization, reengineering and rationalization schemes, the privatization of government services, government budget cuts, and in some cases, the interplay of patronage politics of officials. Oftentimes, these result in poor working conditions in most government offices, especially in the provincial and municipal levels.

Programs for career advancement and professionalization are cornered by those close to management. Local and foreign scholarships, and other incentive awards are given to close relatives and friends of top managers. Promotions are given on the basis of connections and patronage politics rather than merit and professional qualifications.

The democratic rights of government employees are suppressed. Employees are not consulted on policies and programs affecting them. Their right to organization, assembly and collective bargaining are tightly constrained by civil service rules. They can only negotiate for non-monetary benefits. They have no right to strike or to conduct any form of collective protest action.

They are used as scapegoats in government campaigns against corruption while the biggest beneficiaries of graft and corruption, the politicians and top government officials, remain scot-free.

Case study: Bacolod employees hard-up and mired in debt

Local data obtained by Bulatlat from CIRMS, a local social research outfit, showed that among the government employees of Bacolod City the lowest paid employee receives a monthly salary of P10,805 and annual benefits worth P19,905. But a cursory survey conducted by Bulatlat showed that their common take home pay is only P3,389.69 per month, or P112.96/day. This is way below the P535.68/day standard set by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) for a family of six to live a decent life.

A study by DepEd in Bacolod City early this year showed that 62% of public school teachers receive a net income of P 5,000 and below. The breakdown are as follows, 38% of public school teachers receive a net income of P5,000 to P9,000 per month, 24% percent receive a net income of P5,000 and below, and 38 % receive P3,000 and below.

The same study showed that 72% of public school teachers allot half or more than half of their salaries to pay their debts. The breakdown are as follows, 28% of public school teachers spend 25-50% of their salary to pay for their debts, 36.3 % allot 50% of their salaries for debt payments, and 35.7% spend more than 50% of their salaries for payment of all sorts of debts.

CIRMS said an increasing number of government employees, especially teachers, are attending night classes on care giving, nursing and vocational courses to be able to apply for work abroad.

Richard Gelangre, president of the Association of Classroom Teachers-Bacolod (ACT-BA) told Bulatlat that some of their members now work as English teachers in China, Vietnam and Malaysia. He said that teachers in other Asian countries get a basic salary of 30,000 to 50,000, far better than what they receive here. “More are still applying for jobs abroad,” he added.

Data from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) show that 3,269 teachers left the country from 2001 to 2004 to seek employment abroad.

Cora Semillano, adviser of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers-Negros (ACT-Negros), said, “We can’t blame our state employees for leaving the country and working as domestic helpers or whatever. Government is not giving them adequate compensation and the respect they deserve as public servants. It is the government’s inaction to the employees’ legitimate demand for increases in salaries and other benefits that drive more of them to work abroad.”

Semillano however stressed that she encourages Filipino teachers to stay despite the hardships because their main profession is “to raise the awareness of the students and prepare them for their social responsibilities”.

Fighting Back

The sad plight of government employees moved them to link arms and engage the government in protest actions and court battles. Since 1998, Bacolod City has witnessed big mass actions by government employees to fight for increases in salaries, unpaid benefits, job security and their rights, and to protest against corruption in government. Mobilizations of state employees ranged from a few hundreds to thousands.

Dan Alcoriza, Vice-chairman of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) Western Visayas chapter, said that “From 2000 to 2004, government employees had staged numerous protest actions against liberalization, privatization, rationalization and other destructive neo-liberal policies of the government which threatened their job security and benefits.”

He enumerated the various struggles of government employees: the protest action of water district employees against privatization, the campaign of hospital and health workers against “corporatization”, the fight of local government employees for the recognition of their unions and implementation of the benefits they won through collective negotiated agreement (CNA), among others. “Most of these campaigns are still going on, but we are getting stronger,” added Alcoriza.

Gilda Quiatchon, Chairperson of ACT-Negros and a veteran street parliamentarian, told Bulatlat that some of their struggles “have been won, others not completely, but it strengthened and broadened their unity”. Quiatchon recalled that the biggest struggle of public school teachers in recent years was the fight for payment of their Emergency Cost of Living Allowance (ECOLA), which they won from the city government. The ECOLA is a monthly special benefit taken from the City’s Special Education Fund amounting to P1,000.00 per teacher.

She said the ECOLA struggle began in 1998 when the previous two mayors refused to release it claiming lack of funds. They engaged the city government in street protests, pickets, walk-outs up to court battles. COURAGE supported their struggle. They finally won in early 2004 when the Supreme Court ruled in their favor.

New wave of struggle

Representatives of COURAGE, ACT-Negros, ACT-BA, the National Federation of Teachers and Employees Unions (NAFTEU), and the Alliance of Health Workers are planning a campaign to demand for payment of their Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) and for a P3,000 across-the-board increase.

The campaign is based on a Supreme Court en banc decision September 6, 2005 on G.R. No. 160396, Philippine Ports Authority employees hired after July 1, 1989 versus COA , in which it ruled that all Philippine Port Authority employees who were in service within the period of July 1, 1989 (date of effectivity of R.A. 6758 or the Salary Standardization Law) to March 16, 1999 (date of publication of DBM Corporate Compensation Circular No. 10) are entitled to back payments of their Cost of Living Allowance and amelioration allowance.

Gilda Quiatchon, said that “this decision is extremely significant for public school teachers as well as government employees in general. For the first time, the Supreme Court has ruled specifically and categorically that the COLA was not integrated into the basic pay of government employees when R.A. 6758 took effect in July 1, 1989”.

“This means, the government owes us unpaid COLA from 1989 to 1999, and from 1999 to the present because the government unjustly dissolved our COLA when Congress passed the RA 6758 or the Salary Standardization Law in 1988,” Quiatchon added.

Dan Alcoriza, clarified further saying “that is why we are not only demanding payment of our unpaid COLA but the restoration of our COLA unjustly dissolved by Salary Standardization Law”.

Alcoriza also chided the government saying “the Salary Standarization Law, which was supposed to upgrade the salaries and benefits of state employees resulted instead to its reduction. What kind of state measure was that?” he asked.

Gualberto Dajao, an officer of ACT-BA for his part slammed the Arroyo administration for backtracking from its commitment to “alleviate the plight of government employees”. Dajao said, “the COLA and other benefits are ours, they are product of our long and concerted struggles, they should be given to us”.

He also said that “after imposing on us the heavy crosses of EVAT, oil price hikes, wage freeze and surging prices of basic commodities and costs of public services, GMA has still the gall to deprive us of our benefits”.

Secretary Romulo Neri of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in his September 21 Memorandum to the President stated, “If the national government settles the COLA following the latest Supreme Court ruling on the PPA case, the government would be paying P68.75 B to P153.4B. We do not have the necessary appropriation to pay this claim.”

Alcoriza however hit back saying, “That is a big lie. How can the government afford to pay $228 million in foreign debt payment in 2004, including the $110.8 million in annual principal and interest payments for the onerous BNPP loans of Marcos and the billions for NAPOCOR debts and claim that it cannot pay government employees?”

“This clearly shows the GMA government’s lack of concern for its people’s rights and welfare and its bias for big business and transnational corporations, Alcoriza stressed.

Alcoriza revealed that they have started their big campaign to press for the immediate payment of their unpaid COLA estimated at P124,000 per government employee. He said that the part of their demands are for the restoration of the COLA, and a P3,000 across the board increase nationwide.

He also revealed that they are set to mobilize thousands of teachers and government employees throughout Negros for a nationally coordinated protest action on December 7, 2005. (

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