The “pakyao” system or piece-rate labor arrangement has replaced the work arrangement in many sugar farms in Negros. Workers on “pakyao” system set their own work time and methods, divide among themselves the contracted price which is usually lower than minimum wage, and they do not enjoy basic benefits provided by the labor law. They need to work harder to get more piece-rate jobs and earn a better income.
BY KARL G. OMBION
BACOLOD City – The “pakyao” system or piece-rate labor arrangement has apparently replaced the work arrangement in many sugar farms in Negros.
“Pakyao” system is an arrangement where a group of sugar workers are given tasks like wedding, planting, sugarcane cutting and hauling in specific land areas; or tons of production load, for a contracted price set by the landowner.
Unlike a regular worker with a definite work time, salary and some benefits, workers on “pakyao” system define their own work time and work methods, share among themselves the contracted price which is usually lower than minimum wage, and they do not enjoy basic benefits even if provided by the labor code. For a group of “pakyao” workers to earn more, they have to look for more piece-rate jobs.
In effect, they have no security of tenure, are vulnerable to economic abuse, and are migratory – they move from sugar farm to sugar farm to find work, also on “pakyao” or contractual basis, to increase their income.
A field study made by the Bacolod-based Center for Investigative Research and Multimedia Services (CIRMS) on the conditions of workers in sugar farms, revealed that more than 60 percent of sugar farms in Negros employ sugar workers under the “pakyao” system.
As a result of this system, sugar workers in many sugar farms receive below minimum wage, some as much as P80 per piece work only, while others receive as low as P40, the study showed.
It also stressed that this labor arrangement has resulted in what it described as the destruction of security of tenure, dehumanization of workers, and degradation of the dignity of labor.
Nanay Perlita, 49, a sakada (seasonal worker) all her life in a hacienda in Victorias City like her husband and three children, said that in the early1980s they were still regular workers; but when the sugar industry suffered set backs in the late 1980s and 1990s, her amo (boss) began to employ them as “pakyao” workers.
Their situation is even harsher now, she said, as they are forced to get as many “pakyao” jobs as they could, in different haciendas, to survive. “Before we had salary at the end of the month, and could ask for some medical, educational and housing assistance from our amo and ama; but now it is no more,” she said in Ilonggo.
She also admitted that her three kids had voluntarily stopped schooling, because they want to help in family labor so they could earn extras. “I really wanted them to finish even elementary only, but it is very difficult now; I cannot provide them their transport fare and baon (provisions) to the town center, which is 30-45 minutes away, and the tricycle cost is P 45 for one way only,” she said.
The same holds true among several sugar workers in selected haciendas in central and south Negros studied by CIRMS.
Sugar hacienderos use the “pakyao” system to reduce their cost of production, and evade the labor requirement for basic benefits like SSS, medicare, and hazard pay, among others, the study showed.
This system has also destroyed sugar workers’ unions and associations, as piece-rate laborers and contractuals being irregular are not allowed under the Labor Code to form unions, the study further disclosed.
The sugar workers’ general condition has worsened under what the study described as the “neo-liberal” policies of the government. “Despite the relative sustained recovery of sugar prices in the domestic and international market, the workers pay and conditions remain miserable,” it said.
In a related development, the Bacolod office of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) has admitted that it has been receiving lots of complaints about the rampant employment of the “pakyao” system in many sugar farm plantations.
“It is actually legal as provided in the Labor Code, only that the actual situation is worse than we expected,” admitted a DoLE-Bacolod official who requested not to be named.
He said this is already a grave concern for the agency. “Still, we are giving this due attention so the problem would not worsen any further,” he added. Bulatlat