Workers, Urban Poor Skip Meals to Cope with the Crisis

While the poor try everything from skipping meals to walking hours to the workplace just to cope with the economic crisis, all the government does is to distribute dole outs.

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Vol. VIII, No. 27, August 10-16, 2008

Rosa, 55, is a garment worker in Taytay, Rizal for almost ten years now. The company implements a quota system, which forces her to work for more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to reach the minimum quota. She receives around P 2,000 (US$ 45.10 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.34) every payday, which she uses to pay debts, house rent, water, and electricity bills. After paying all these, she only has P 300 (US$ 6.76) left for food. Because of this, she has to reduce the quality and quantity of her food consumption or borrow money from usurers who charge 20 percent interest, known locally as 5:6.

Rosa’s plight is not rare anymore. The worsening economic crisis, as manifested in the continuous rise in prices of commodities like fuel and rice, forces workers and the urban population to develop ingenious means of subsistence and to tighten their belts further.

Of course, the Arroyo government may delight about the poor’s creativity. In fact, it is Malacañang’s advice to the people to find ways and means to cope with surging prices while the government is raking in billions in revenues from the very price hike that punishes the poor. Whilst the poor must be commended on how they continue to survive and refuse to be robbed completely of their dignity, their plight should shame those who profit from their poverty.

The stories below are derived from direct interviews with workers from different factories and urban poor communities. Every account strikes similarities and echoes situations that are all-too-familiar to the average Filipino.

Skipping meals

Ruth, Rosa’s fellow garment worker, told us that to cut down on expenses, her family combines breakfast and lunch (also widely known as “brunch”). Ruth is a casual worker and receives only P110 (US$2.48) as daily wage, P177 (US$3.99) below the mandated minimum wage in Region 4.

Nanay Mildy, 60, an urban poor resident in Intramuros, Manila, has a similar story. She told us that her family is now used to extending their sleep to wake-up past breakfast late in the morning. These families, like most, are now eating only two meals a day because they simply could not afford the standard three meals a day.

Teofilo Galalo, 55, is a regular worker in Reliance Farm Inc., a small-scale piggery in the Novaliches industrial belt. He has been working there for almost 27 years now. He receives P336 (US$7.577) as daily wage. He allots P186 (US$ 4.19) for food everyday for the eight members of his family. This is far way below the P 862 (US$ 19.44) daily food allowance needed by a family of six, according to the computations of the National Productivity Wage Commission (NPWC).

At the time of this writing, commercial rice in Metro Manila costs around P 35-40 (US$ 0.79 to $0.90) per kilo, while in other regions it has already reached P 52 (US$ 1.17) per kilo. Many had already shifted to either the P 25 (US$ .56) per kilo NFA commercial rice, or to P18.50 (US$ .41) per kilo NFA rice, if they are able to withstand its soap-like taste. But even if their palettes refuse it, the stark reality is that they don’t have any choice, which makes the soap-like NFA rice delectable.

Walking to work

Renilyn Tubay, 19, works at Unity Packaging, a factory of 50 workers producing boxes for medicines and skin applications. Women workers receive only P281 (US$ 6.33) a day for eight hours of work, while male workers receive P331 (US$ 7.46). The disparity between salaries of male and female workers adds to the burden of Renilyn. The minimum wage in Metro Manila is pegged at P382 (US$ 8.61) per day.
To cope with soaring prices, Renilyn walks to work everyday. She needs to wake up at 6 a.m. to be able to reach her workplace by 8 a.m.
Celine Castillo, 32, doesn’t work but she had to do all the budgeting for the family.

Her husband works at Rebisco Company, which produces biscuits with the trademark Hanzel, Rebisco Crackers, Marie Choco Sandwich, etc.
Out of the 2,900 total workforce, only 1,900 are regular workers.

According to Celine, she now shifted to using charcoal for her daily cooking instead of using LPG or liquefied petroleum gas. Two sacks of charcoal costing around P300 ($6.76) are enough for a month. Because of this, her family is able to save P350 (US$ 7.89) a month.
At the time of this writing, gasoline is at P61 (US$ 1.37) per liter, diesel at P54 (US$ 1.21) per liter, while a regular LPG tank is at P 650 (US$ 14.65).

Dropping out

Education was deemed before by poor families as the best way to break the chains of poverty enveloping them. However, with the present crisis, attending school is fast becoming very costly and unsustainable.

Ruth, 32, also a garment worker in Taytay, Rizal, failed to enroll her eldest son, a second year college student at University of Rizal System (URS) Taytay campus. They were forced to spend the budget for enrollment on food. “Life is very hard… we need more income and so I want my children to look for work,” she said in Filipino.

Even the International Labor Organization (ILO) expressed concern over the decline in the enrollment rate in schools from 96.77 percent in 2000-2001 to 83.22 percent in 2006-2007. (PDI, 19 June 2008). Declines in enrollment translate into more incidences of child labor, a problem that the ILO and the trade union movement wanted to eliminate.

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