By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — A street sweeper for the Metro Manila Development Authority for roughly 26 years, Marcial Raba, 55, said he does not dream of getting rich. He only wants his family to have a decent meal thrice a day, and for his three children to finish their education.
His salary, however, is too meager to achieve these dreams. Back in 1986, Raba was earning P900 ($20) a month. He said in jest that today, only one zero has been added to his salary, which is P9,000 ($208) monthly.
“While our P900 seems so small during those days, I could say that it somehow sufficed for our needs,” Raba told Bulatlat.com, “Today, even if we are earning way way bigger, surviving is hardly possible.”
His salary was not enough to meet their daily needs with the increasing costs of basic commodities and services. Raba has loans from all possible government agencies that he could turn to. As a result, he said, his take home salary every pay day is roughly $23. He estimates that he will receive a salary of $34 on the next pay day.
To make both ends meet, Raba is forced to take jobs on the side. If his friend’s side car is available, he takes it out and, if fortunate, could bring home money to buy dinner for that night. “When the side car is not available, there are times we only eat once a day.”
Because of this, Raba joined other government employees who marched to Mendiola on Wednesday October 26 to press for higher wages and demand for their benefits.
March to mendiola
During the protest action in Mendiola, government employees still managed to take in stride what they are going through. “We are London-ers,” one of the leaders of the government workers union said, “We have loans here and there.”
When asked who among their ranks has an existing loan, most, if not all the employees raised their hands. Their placards, too, have shown some of the irony they are in, such as “Our take home pay could not take us home anymore.”
The Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees, in their statement, said the current Family Living Wage is pegged at $689 a month. Yet, the minimum pay of a Salary Grade 1 Step 1 employee is only $192. This, they said, has forced government employees, under dire circumstances, to turn to loan sharks or government agencies such as GSIS and SSS.
“Essentially, we have already mortgaged the fruits of our future labor even before we receive our month’s salary,” Courage said.
Rosalinda Nartates, 59, who works for the National Housing Authority for the past 33 years and president of Consolidated Union of Employees, told Bulatlat.com that it is only just for President Benigno S. Aquino III to give government employees a decent wage since they are the frontliners of the government’s social services.
“He should make sure that we are still ‘alive’ while delivering government social services. Please do not make it hard for us,” Nartates said.
Together with Courage, she called for a substantial wage increase, particularly a $139 increase for all government minimum wage workers.
Local government employees
While government employees have supposedly received another tranche of increase as stipulated in the Salary Standardization Law 3, Ferdie Gaite, national president of the Courage, told Bulatlat.com that it did not benefit employees whose salaries are at the bottom of the salary grades.
Gaite said the case of local government employees is even more appalling because local government units are not required to follow the Salary Standardization Law 3. The law stipulates that the salary of the local government employees would be based on the income class and the financial capability of the city or town.
“An Accountant 1 for a local government and an Accountant 1 for a national government agency would perform the same task regardless of where you are situated. Yet, local government employees are receiving a very low pay,” Gaite said, adding that it runs contrary to one of the governing principles, as stipulated in the Salary Standardization Law 3, that government personnel would “be paid just and equitable compensation in accordance with the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.”
He added that it is unfair to say that the low salary of local government employees would suffice because of the so-called low costs of living in province. “The farther you are from Manila, the basic commodities and social services becoms more expensive,” Gaite said, citing oil as an example.
The implementation of the new salary grades for the local government is even delayed by several months. “In this case, they are deprived of their rightful salary twice,” Gaite said.
“It is infuriating to see this administration’s gall in allocating a huge amount for the President’s pork barrel while overworked and underpaid rank and file employees continue to live on the brink of poverty and destitution,” Gaite said.
Nartates, for her part, said their low wages coincides with threats on virtually removing their incentives even if there are provisions in the Salary Standardization Law 3 that supports their call. The said law stipulates that “a performance -based incentive scheme which integrates personnel and organizational performance shall be established to reward exemplary civil servants and well-performing institutions.”
Nartates said under Aquino, claiming their Collective Negotiations Agreement incentive has become harder and almost impossible. Aside from reaching their target collections, she said the Department of Budget and Management’s circular letter stipulates that government agencies will use their declared savings.
“How could we have savings when the government continues to cut its funding for social services and yet require us to do so many tasks?” she said, “Where is the government’s consistency?”
Courage has earlier expressed its dismay over the DBM circular letter saying that it has “maliciously and purposely omitted the source of the fund.” The government union said he Salary Standardization Law 3 stipulates that benefits such as CNA incentive shall be provided under the General Appropriations Act.
“This is an attack on our rights as workers. It is also an attack on our rights to a decent living,” Nartates said.