“Wages take decades to adjust but the prices of Meralco, gas, water, increase often, just like that.” – Kadamay-NCR
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The minimum wages in the Philippines have never seen significant increases for years yet beginning the first week of 2015, a sizable chunk of this wage is to be eaten up by increases in prices of services. Complaints greeted the price hikes but Malacañang tried to downplay it.
Still, protests are happening and protesters are vowing to launch some more as they urged the public to support the campaign for a substantial national wage increase. On Wednesday (Jan. 7), workers and employees from a network called “All Workers’ Unity” held a walkout protest in various locations in Metro Manila to press for the implementation of a National Minimum Wage amounting to P16,000 monthly. The group launched the campaign for national minimum wage late last year. Since 1989, there is practically no more minimum wages in the country, as the government started to fix hundreds of so-called minimum wage rates.
As workers’ groups follow up on their demand for a national minimum wage, they add now the demand for the “junking” of the recently imposed increases in MRT and LRT fares and in water rates. Although train and water services have been built and largely operated from public funds, over the years, it has been privatized in various ways, resulting to today’s complained of profit-orientation of its operations and thus, the price hikes.
The increased train fares alone beginning this month are estimated to cost the workers one hour’s wage each day, according to Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon. This means workers would have to work longer to recover the same level of income after riding the trains. The private operators, meanwhile, led by the conglomerates controlled by Ayala and Pangilinan groups, are expected to rake it in further. Latest available data show the trains have been spending less on operations than its earning from sales.
“Wages take decades to adjust but the prices of Meralco, gas, water, increase often and just like that,” Maritess Bacolod, 44, gave a sweeping wave with her hand. She is the chairperson of urban poor group Kadamay in the National Capital Region. A vehicular accident years ago forced her to walk now with a cane, but she still joins picket protests such as the one held by All Workers’ Unity in front of the Department of Labor and Employment this Wednesday.
Coming from Barangay Corazon de Jesus in San Juan City, Metro Manila, Bacolod said most of the residents in their village are working under a “555” or mere five-month contractual period, sometimes even shorter than that. She told Bulatlat.com there are times the contractual workers get asked to prepare already for their “endo” (end of contract) and start completing requirements for another job, all of which typically cost at least P1000.
“PPP (Public Private partnerships) mean constant increases in prices of basic services but workers’ wages are not catching up,” Bacolod summarized. She said Kadamay is supporting the campaign for a national minimum wage because if you look at it, most residents of urban poor communities come from the provinces – “wherever you are, you sweat the same doing the same job, so why receive a wage under a different bracket?” she asks.
A budget that hurts and kills?
Health workers and public sector workers also held programs Wednesday (Jan. 7) in front of the offices of the National Housing Authority, Sandiganbayan and National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City and of the Metro Manila Development Authority in Makati City.
“The meager salaries given to government employees highlight the anti-people and pro-elite allocation of the national budget,” said Ferdie Gaite, national president of government workers’ group COURAGE. Citing financial data concerning the running, for example, of LRT and MRT, Gaite also expressed disbelief that “savings” from reduced subsidies for the trains would go to other services. Coming from the public sector, he has had a ringside view of the steady decline in government subsidies to various public services and the corresponding decline in public sector workers’ wages and benefits, and on the other hand, increases in government fees and services.
“The salaries of the country’s health workers were already in bad health even before the MRT-LRT fare hike and the water rate hike,” said Jossel Ebesate, chairman of Alliance of Health Workers. The health workers expressed disgust at what they describe as government decisions that hurt and kill their salaries.
Under the Aquino administration, government employees also increasingly become lower-paid contractual workers with tenuous job security. Health workers have also been the first to note the impact of reduced government subsidies on health and the increased intrusion of profit-oriented, corporatized running of government hospitals. Filipinos would postpone seeking medical care until it is too late, they have said in various press conferences.
The health workers, overworked and with fewer free resources at their disposal, are stretched more thinly to cope with the people’s health care needs.
As with the Kilusang Mayo Uno, Courage and Kadamay, Ebesate said health workers all over the country deserve a National Minimum Wage of P16,000 monthly.
The government has yet to respond to this demand. Since Aquino became president in 2010, his administration has granted the lowest wage hikes even in comparison to past “meager increases” granted by preceding administrations. Meanwhile, prices have spiked under the Aquino administration as more businesses got privatized or deregulated and the people have no recourse but rush to petition the Supreme Court to restrain this or that hike (like in the case of Meralco’s runaway rate hike last year).
In the coming days, it would not come as a surprise that the rate of poverty and hunger would rise further, Gloria Arellano, national president of urban poor group Kadamay, predicted. Arellano said the poor are being crushed by demolition and various harassments that force them to relinquish even the informal work they have come to depend on to survive. She said the poor has nowhere else to turn to but join hands and support the campaign for decent jobs and national minimum wages.