They work hard for the money, but are never treated right

(Photo by Fred Dabu/Bulatlat)
(Photo by Fred Dabu/Bulatlat)

Low wages, loans, and underemployment plague women in the labor force.

MAIN STORY: No decent paying jobs for working women in the Philippines


MANILA – Among the Labor Day rallyists in Liwasang Bonifacio were women workers and urban poor who come from different places and are engaged in different struggles. But they all carry a common story of hardship and survival, as mothers and workers nurturing their families while running a race against the perpetually rising cost of living.

Bulatlat talked to urban poor women who work at home, and to unionized women employees. They said they badly need better jobs and better wages, which Kilusang Mayo Uno presented as people’s demands on Labor Day.

There is nothing more convenient for mothers than to be in their own abode, looking after their children while earning income at the same time. But this is not as rosy as it may seem, because unlike regular workers, they have no security of tenure, no regularity of income, and they shoulder the cost of utilities spent in performing their jobs.

This is the case of Elizabeth Maynigo, 45, mother of four children. After working as an overseas Filipino worker and in blue collar jobs, she never had a regular job since she got married. She has been a subcontract worker who is hired only when a company or factory outsources part of the production process.

Maynigo sews shoes for big companies. She said the price of each pair depends on the kind of stitch, ranging from about P7 (14 US cents) per pair for simple stitching, and about P28 (56 US cents) for intricate hand sewing. Living in Marikina, the Philippines’ shoe capital, there was always plenty of work for her, whether she was paid per piece, or through a pakwayan or wholesale arrangement. But gradually, shoes to be sewn became fewer because of the influx of China shoes in the country.

But Maynigo does not receive her income in full, because the middleman who takes on the job orders also gets his share.

“At first it was a big help because you can earn without leaving your house. But on the other hand, you are exploited because you do not have benefits; the companies save a lot because we pay for utilities we use while making their shoes,” she said.

‘The poor are the most hardworking people’

The same pakyawan system covers the working women who occupied the idle government housing units in Pandi, Bulacan. For the past two months, after their successful occupation, they now face their daily ordeal of living with no water and electricity and most of all, no livelihood. The relocation site in Pandi is too far from the urban center.

Amy Vega, 61, a retired security guard and one of the occupiers in Mapulang Lupa village, Pandi, Bulacan said they find ways to survive. One source of income is cleaning parts of chicken or what they call chicken dressing. She gets paid P3 (.06 US cent) per kilo of cleaned small intestine. “If you can clean 50 kilos a day then you’ll have P150 ($3),” she said in an interview with Bulatlat.

Vega and other Kadamay members from Pandi stayed in the capital from April 29 to May 1 to attend the Labor Day rally.

Photoby Fred Dabu/ Bulatlat
Photoby Fred Dabu/ Bulatlat

She said it hurts to hear harsh comments against the occupiers in Pandi. Belying allegations that they are lazy, she said the poor are actually the most hardworking people of all, but ironically, they are not paid enough from their jobs. Even as she was a retired security guard, she does not have pension because some agencies that employed her did not remit her contribution to the Social Security System even if it was deducted from her salary. “I may get some small amount from other agencies that remitted my contribution, but I will save that for my burial,” she said.

Vega, a widow, lives with her unemployed adult son and her 88-year-old father in the occupied home in Pandi.

Meanwhile, “Sally” (name withheld upon request), a 38-year-old mother of four and also a widow, survives living in Pandi through pakyawan. Asked how they are managing their meager income, she said they had no choice but to loan.
“Uutangin ko muna yung pangkain namin, tapos kung may sweldo na babayaran ko na sila. Pero kulang pa rin yun (I borrow money for our food and then pay for it whenever I receive my salary. But it’s still not enough),” she said.

With all the hardships she has to endure, Sally chose not to be bothered by bashers. “Wala naman kaming mapapala kung makikipagtalo pa (There’s nothing we can gain from arguing with them.)”

Vega said some residents seem to intentionally make things harder for them by refusing to sell water. She said the residents who sell them water were reprimanded by the president of the homeowner association. “They are making life difficult for us so that we will opt to leave Pandi,” she said. However, she said they will not give up the fight just like that.

Working hard but not earning enough

Even regular workers share the same sentiments as the urban poor. Rose Blanca, 47, has been a cashier in Unimart for the past 20 years, but said her income is not enough to cover her family’s expenses. She only has one child, but, she said, life is still difficult. Her husband works as a cook in a canteen and earns P5,000 ($100) a month.

There has been no significant increase in her salary even if she has been serving the store for two decades. From P145 ($3) per day in 1997, her current salary only increased to P515 a day ($10.29). She was able to buy the rights to the land where her house stands, but other than that, there is nothing else that she had saved up for her family. In fact, they had been so hard up that her son had to transfer from a private school to a public school.

“Hindi kasi talaga kaya (We really cannot afford it),” she said. She said she also sends money to her ageing parents in Mindanao who have no income.

Josephine Gallardo, 31, another Unimart employee has been in the company for four years, earning P499.50 ($10) a day as a cashier. Unlike Blanca, Gallardo pays a bigger income tax, being still single. But like those with a family, she also finds it hard to cope with the rapid increase of prices of basic commodities.

Both Blanca and Gallardo, are union members who came in their yellow, long-sleeved union uniform at the Labor Day rally in Liwasang Bonifacio.

Gallardo said there is need for a significant salary increase for workers, not as if they are given alms. Meanwhile, as long as there is no genuine change for the workers and the poor, they will keep fighting, said Vega.

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