By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — In his twenties, Ronilo, who requested that his name be withheld for fear of reprisal, is one of the approximately 17,600 long-time contractual employees of Dole Philippines in Cotabato, southern Philippines. Dolefil is a subsidiary of the profitable global giant Dole Food company, but Ronilo only gets the minimum wage amounting to P245 ($5.526 at the current exchange rate of $1=P44.33) a day if he makes the company quota.
He should be able to plant more than 33,200 pineapples per working day. He gets lower than the minimum wage if he failed to meet his quota. To meet it, Ronilo and others like him had to work for more than eight hours a day without overtime pay. At the Dolefil’s integrated cannery and packaging plant in Polomolok, Cotabato, other long-time contractual employees like Ronilo work to cut, clean and package so much fresh fruits during their eight-hour working day, for the same minimum wage.
Ronilo is an example of the ‘kapit sa patalim’ (latch on to a knife) kind of worker: workers who in their desperation to get any job have been forced to take on back-breaking, low-paying work, said Jose Teruel, president of the 5,000-strong union of the rank-and -file employees in Dole Philippines, the Asosasyon sa mga Mamumuo sa Dolfil Alang sa Kalingkawasan sa Nasud, or Amado Kadena.
In some garments companies in economic enclaves in Southern Tagalog, contractual employees like Ronilo and the workers inside the cannery also have to meet a certain quota before they can be paid the minimum wage prescribed in their region.
Ibon estimated these non-regular wage and salary Filipino workers or those with casual, contractual, probationary, apprentice or seasonal status to number 4.67 million in 2009, by extrapolating to 2009 the finding of the 2007/2008 BLES Integrated Survey (BITS) that one in four workers in non-agricultural establishments with 20 or more workers had non-regular status. Ibon cited “another estimate of another 11.71 million wage and salary workers employed but with only verbal contracts or none at all,” again by extrapolating to 2009 the April 2008 Informal Sector Survey of the National statistics Office (NSO) that less than four out of ten (37.3percent) wage and salary workers were covered by written contracts.
Non-regular or non-contract employees, Ibon said in their yearend 2009 briefing, “are increasingly preferred by employers to cut costs where they want to legally avoid paying minimum wages, deny workers benefits and be able to dismiss workers at will.”
Examples of these employers also include the giant mall chains such as the profitable SM malls. Henry Sy, the owner of SM, has been ranked in Forbes magazine’s list of richest tycoons. SM is known for employing more contractual than regular employees. These contractual employees get only the minimum wages prescribed in the National Capital region, give or take deductions by their employing ‘agencies.’ They get little benefits while under a five-month contract.
The same condition prevails among the contractual stevedores and porters of Harbor Center in the port area in Manila, which is owned by Michael Romero who in turn is the majority owner of the private consortium that recently took over the operations of the bigger public utility, the Manila North Harbor. Romero at least pays for the overtime work of his minimum-wage earning workers, but that may be attributed to the fact that there are unionized port workers in the vicinity.
The other partner of Romero in Manila North Harbor (MNH) is First Pacific led by Manny Pangilinan, whose thousands of employees contracted by its approved agencies in the profitable PLDT Group of companies are also getting only the minimum wages. Sometimes, its contractual workers like those in sales or in piece-rated phone installations and repair say they only get the minimum wage rate if they achieve a certain quota for the day.
The current rival of First Pacific for control of Meralco, San Miguel Corporation, is also known among workers of the conglomerate for increasingly subcontracting jobs to thousands of minimum-wage earning contractual and ‘tempo’ workers.
In manufacturing firms inside special economic zones that are mostly located outside of the National Capital Region (NCR), workers had to fight just to be paid the minimum wage in the region, which is lower than in NCR.
Church-based organizations helping workers in special economic zones such as the Workers’ Action Center (WAC) in Cavite and the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) working in Cebu have often documented cases where workers are not being paid the minimum wages, despite their working for subsidiaries or contractors of big, profitable companies abroad.
Even the government, according to Courage, employs minimum wage-earning contractual workers who have been with it for years.