By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Harold Concepcion, president of the Journal Employees Union (JEU), only had P300 ($6.94) in his wallet when he was interviewed by bulatlat.com. Like his co-workers at the Philippine Journalists Inc., publisher of People’s Journal, People’s Tonight and People’s Taliba, Concepcion is forced to subsist on a meager and often delayed salary.
Concepcion, 34, became a father recently. But much as he likes to, he could not afford to go home every day to his wife and daughter, now 11 months old, in Malolos, Bulacan. The P180 ($4.16) he saves a day from transportation fare he allots instead to food.
Since March this year, Concepcion and 142 employees at the PJI get their salaries either only partially or delayed or both. Last May 31, the company would not have released their salaries for May 1 to 15 if the union had not pressed them to release it. The average salary of rank-and-file employees in PJI is only P11,000 ($254.32).
Aside from delays, employees usually get their salaries in tranches. “One week, you get P2,000 ($46.24). The following week, P1,500 ($34.68). You don’t know when you would finally receive the full amount of your salary.”
“Budgeting becomes more difficult. How would you choose to spend your remaining wage— for food or for transportation? That is a question a worker here always has to confront,” Concepcion who has been working for the company for ten years as a property staff, said.
For Gerardo Serue, 56, a delayed salary means failure to send his youngest daughter to college. Serue who has been working at PJI since 1996 only gets P11,000 ($254.32) as monthly salary.
“Given our salary here, I cannot pay for my daughter’s tuition,” Serue, JEU vice president, said. How he had managed to support his family from such a meager income was a miracle in itself, he said. He managed to send two of his children to college through an education plan he had paid for before he got employed by the PJI.
Now, Serue has four grandchildren. His son-in-law is a minimum wage earner and the burden of bringing food to the table is pressing heavily on him.
“Every employee here is equivalent to a wife or a husband with children. How many of us have received notices of eviction because we could no longer pay for the rent or amortization? How many children have been forced to stop schooling?” Concepcion said. “Some of our members would turn to me, crying.”
Concepcion showed a copy of a medical prescription for one of their union members, a photojournalist who has glaucoma, an eye disorder that requires continuous medication. “How can he buy these expensive medicines?”
Their contributions to Social Security System (SSS) have not been remitted for six years. Their payments for Pag-ibig, a government housing insurance, have not been forwarded for more than three years. The medical insurance stated in their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has not been given by the company.
Even the retirement benefits of 25 employees have not been released since 2008. Concepcion cited Romeo Corate, one of the retired employees, who died last year without getting the P1.2 million ($27,744) he was supposed to receive.
“The company could not say they do not have the money. It is stated in the CBA. Why have they not set aside funds for this?” Concepcion asked.
Since 2008, there had been no increase in their salaries and benefits due to a CBA moratorium. Since 2007, employees have not received their rice allowance worth P2,000 ($46.24) per quarter and meal allowance worth P1,000 ($23.12) per month.
The company has also not implemented a 1997 Supreme Court decision to grant wage order 1 and 2 to the Journal employees. The decision was lodged again with the National Labor Relations Commission for execution in 2004.
The PJI has not also complied with the 2004 Supreme Court decision ordering the reinstatement with full back wages without loss of seniority pay of 29 illegally dismissed employees.
In a recent dialogue presided over by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the PJI management claimed the company is incurring losses. They said the company is losing P4 million to P6 million monthly. “That is unbelievable. It is not just logical,” Concepcion said. If that was true, he asked, why has the company not filed for bankruptcy? It is “Because they cannot prove it,” the union leader said.
The union cited an unaudited income statement of Philippine Journal from January to October 2008 stating that the company raked in a total revenue of P158 million ($3.65 million) or from P14 million ($323,680) to P18 million ($416,160) monthly.
The company is evidently not losing, but perhaps the Romualdezes had used the PJI funds that should have been earmarked for workers for investing into another newspaper. The union cited reports that Leyte Congressman Ferdinand Martin Romualdez has bought Enrique K. Razon’s shares at Manila Standard Today newspaper for P75 million ($1.7million) to P100 million ($2.3 million). Martin Romualdez is the son of former Leyte Governor Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, who owns the Philippine Journal.