“They do not even have to promise. They just need to do what is just and right.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL and RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Myrna Pisaw held a box made of cardboard with the text, “Support for Kentex workers.” She and her fellow former contractual workers at the slipper factory joined the Labor Day protest, marching toward the foot of Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge.
Pisaw, 31, worked at Kentex for six years as a contractual and received a meager P202 ($4.3) per day, only 43-percent of the P466 ($10)-minimum wage set by the Regional Wage Board . Overtime pay was P29.29 ($0.62) per hour.
She was on break when fire engulfed the slipper factory on May 13 last year, killing 74 of her fellow workers. No one has been punished yet for the tragedy. Besides pursuing justice for their fallen colleagues, Pisaw and the other remaining Kentex workers are fighting for their very survival – for regular work and decent pay.
Their story is no different from some 24.4 million working Filipinos who are non-regular, agency-hired, informal sector, or unpaid family workers. According to independent think-tank Ibon Foundation, 63 percent of total employed belong to this category and 46 percent receive less than the minimum wage.
Asked if she believes the promise of all presidential candidates that they would end contractualization, Pisaw said, “Hindi na nila kailangang sabihin. Gawin na lang nila ang nararapat.” (They do not even have to promise. They just need to do what is just and right.)
Emilio Encepto, 46, raised his five children by working as a construction worker at Golden Fortune Techno Built for 14 years. He was never declared regular until he and his 97 co-workers were retrenched when they formed a union three years ago.
Encepto said they formed a union to fight for their regularization but the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) did not side with the workers.
He takes whatever part-time job available to feed his family. “Sana ipatupad ng susunod na president ang tama para ‘di kami kinukulang sa pamumuhay.” (I hope the next president would implement what is just so that we would be able to meet our daily needs.)
Even in the government sector, contractual labor is rampant. According to the Confederation for Unity, Recognition, and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage), a federation of labor unions in the government, at least 22 percent of government employees are contractuals or job-orders.
Ram Hernandez, 28, has been working for more than a year as a training officer at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She is a non-UP contractual worker who does not receive benefits and no security of tenure. She takes home at least P17,000 ($396) a month. Although single, she said, her salary is still not enough to support her studies. She is now taking her Masteral degree while working at the university.
Hernandez said they only receive a Christmas bonus worth P7,500 ($163), which, she said, is a result of their assertion. She said their organization, Alliance of Contractual Employees in UP had to fight for their rightful bonus, which they were able to push the administration to increase from P2,500 ($54).
What makes their condition worse is the delayed salary. Hernandez said it would take 10 days to process their accomplished daily time record. Some employees who receive lower salaries than her have no other choice but to acquire loans.
Diony Villanueva, 40 years old, also a non-UP contractual, lamented that the delays in the release of his P13,000 ($282) salary pushed him to indebtedness. Villanueva, a father of three, is the sole breadwinner in the family.
“With the delay, the only way we could get by is to acquire a loan. If not, we would not have anything to eat,” he told Bulatlat in an interview.
Villanueva has been working in UP since 1997 when he was still under an agency. He applied in the university and was hired as Laboratory Aide as a non-UP contractual in 2009. His work exposes him to chemicals and bacteria but he does not receive hazard pay.
Both Hernandez and Villanueva doubt the pledge of all presidential candidates that they would stop contractualization.
“They are all legislators. If they are really against contractualization, they should have stopped it even before they became candidates for president,” said Hernandez.
For Villanueva these are all promises. “E yung mga nasa likod nila malalaking negosyante ang mga iyan. Kaya malabo yan.” (Those who are behind them are big businessmen. That’s why that won’t be fulfilled.)
Pisaw, the worker at Kentex, does not pin all her hopes on the next president to end contractualization. “Alam naming hangga’t di kami nagkakaisa, di mangyayari ‘yun,” (We know that if we are not united, that won’t happen.) she told Bulatlat.