There are 2.3 million government employees in the Philippines, and 720,000 are non-regulars or contractual workers under different names, such as job order, emergency-hired, memorandum of agreement (MOA)-hired workers, and contract of services.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Echoing calls of their counterpart in the private sector, government employees are taking the Duterte administration to task for its promise of change, primarily on workers’ wage levels and job security.
Manuel Baclagon, Social Welfare Employees Association of the Philippines lamented that President Duterte has continued the policies of his predecessor, former President Benigno C. Aquino III, who who gave no significant increase in salaries, and even reduced the benefits and additional income of state workers.
At the national government employees’ summit on April 18, unions from different government agencies and local government units gathered to reiterate their demands: P16,000 ($321) salary increase for public sector employees, P750 ($15) minimum wage for the private sector and an end to contractualization.
Among such policies being criticized is Executive Order 201, which Aquino signed before his term ended, and gives salary increases in four tranches. COURAGE opposed EO 21, which, they said, gave huge increases only to high-ranking government officials, while rank-and-file employees get “meager change.”
Low salary increase, cut in bonuses
The group’s strong opposition to EO 201 stems from the unequal distribution of salary hike to government employees. For rank-and-file employees, the increase is from 10 to 27 percent. High-ranking government officials, like the president, get a whopping 100 to 228 percent increase in salaries.
Baclagon, who has been serving the government for more than a decade, lamented that the increase is not enough to cover a family’s expenses, which include food and sending children to school.
He shared during the summit that his take home pay is about P3,000 ($60) a month because of several deductions – from government-mandated benefits, taxes and loans. He said many cash-strapped government employees turn to whatever sources of loans, and often fall prey to loansharks.
In government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC), employees have yet to receive their increase because Executive Order 203 mandated that there will be no increase or adjustment in salaries if GOCCs have not been subjected to rationalization or reorganization. Salary increases were also withheld in GOCCs that the Governance Commission for Government-Owned or -Controlled Corporations has recommended for abolition, dissolution, or privatization.
The lowest paid state worker – an entry level or level one government employee – receives only more than P9,000 ($180) a month. Baclagon said this is somehow augmented by their benefits and bonuses. But this was cut under Aquino, when the Performance-Based Bonus was implemented, and bonuses now depend on the employee’s performance.
Baclagon lamented that the cost of living in the country is rising fast but the wages of workers, whether in private or public, hardly increase. In fact, he said, the family living wage is pegged at P1,096 ($22) per day or a P32,880 ($660).
The group does not see any concrete plan of the Duterte government to end contractualization, which is one of his campaign promises.
Roxanne Fernandez, an employee under contract of services worker in the National Anti-Poverty Commission said the recently issued Department Order No. 174 will not end contractualization. “There is nothing in the DO that explicitly says that it will end contractualization,” said Fernandez.
There are 2.3 million government employees in the Philippines, said Fernandez, and 720,000 are non-regulars or contractual workers under different names, such as job order, emergency-hired, memorandum of agreement (MOA)-hired workers, and contract of services.
Unlike regular employees, contractual workers have no benefits and security of tenure. Some of them have been contractual for many years, like Fernandez.
Most contractual workers are found in local government units, the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Health.
There is also threat of mass lay-off if Senate Bill 1337 or Rightsizing the National Government Act of 2017 is enacted. Under this bill, executive agencies with redundant operations and functions would be abolished.
Ma. Theresa Gonzales, president of the Kapisanan para sa Kagalingan ng mga Kawani ng Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), said about 180,000 employees were already laid-off from MMDA because of Executive Order 366 signed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which replaced employees with contract of services and job orders.
Last month, she said, the termination of a batch of contractuals did not push through because of dialogues with MMDA Chairman Tim Orbos.
Harassment to union leaders
Union leaders in government agencies are also not spared from harassments from the state itself.
In January this year, three men claiming to be members of the Philippine National Police visited Baclagon at the DSWD central office. The men said they were “investigating the petition for the Writ of Amparo filed by Courage in the Supreme Court in 2015.”
But the petition has long been denied, said Baclagon, and there was no reason for any investigation. Two years ago, COURAGE filed a petition for Writ of Amparo over the series of cases of surveillance and harassments of government union leaders.
But even with the recent incident, Baclagon said there is no reason to back down.
Days before May 1, the group will hold activities building up for the big rally on Labor Day. Gaite said many union activists from regions will also hold protests on Labor Day to push for the demands of workers and peoples.