On Bonifacio Day, Bulatlat interviewed minimum wage earners regarding their working conditions and their calls amid the massive price hike in the country.
By AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA and RALPH MICHAEL TUMANENG
MANILA — Like robots.
This is how Richard Castillo, 40, one of the workers of the Manila North Harbour (MNH), described the unjust conditions they are experiencing. As a stevedore, he puts grappling hooks to the container vans placed inside the ships in one of the country’s biggest ports.
Every day for the past eight years, he feels like it would be his last. With one wrong move, he or his co-workers could either be seriously injured or even be killed in their workplace just like what happened to their colleague who was trapped by a heavy container. Others were seriously injured, and their toes and fingers needed to be amputated.
“They treat us like robots. Instead of working on just one ship, they made us work on three ships for 12 hours,” he said.
On the 159th birth commemoration of Andres Bonifacio, he was among the workers who marched in the streets of Manila to the foot of the Mendiola bridge, carrying placards with calls for a wage increase and the lowering of prices of goods. Despite the dangers they face in their workplace, the salary he receives remains at P680 ($12) per day, a relatively higher pay than the present minimum wage in the Philippine capital but still a far cry from the region’s family living wage of P1,133 ($20).
Independent thinktank Ibon Foundation said that minimum wage earners (P570 per day) only get 50 percent of the family living wage. In other regions like the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the situation is far more difficult with minimum wage only about 17.9 percent (P341 per day) of the family living wage (P1,908 per day).
At present, the minimum wage in the National Capital Region is P570 ($10.07) and P 533 ($9.42)for employees in the non-agriculture and agricultural sectors, respectively. At the same time, it is much lower in the other regions, from P282 ($4.98) to P420 ($7.42). According to the workers, this is not enough, especially for those who provide for their families.
“I am the only one working in our family, and what I earn is too small, especially nowadays that even the price of onions has increased to PHP 400/kilo ($7.07),” said Danilo Palma, one of the Nov. 30 protesters.
Castillo, on the other hand, is left with no choice but to borrow from loan sharks to make ends meet for his family of eight, with children ranging from three to 15 years old.
This is the same scenario for a public high school teacher in Caloocan. Grace Edora, 48, narrated how her salary is used up to pay for her piled-up debts, leaving little to no savings for their family.
Aside from the utilities and other necessities, some of Edora’s expenses are school bills. According to her, most of the time, she spends her own money paying for her visual aids, photocopying, gadgets, and load. However, now that blended face-to-face classes are already occurring, additional fees are required for their fares in going to school.
“Price hike nowadays is unimaginable. I need to allot more than P2000 ($35.36) monthly for my fare to the school where I teach. Aside from this, the food in our canteen is also costly. I spent almost a hundred pesos only for a small breakfast,” said Edora.
In order to keep up with the massive price hike, some of her co-teachers need to sell snacks and meals to earn extra income.
Health workers also decried the government’s lack of the promised COVID Allowance and Health Emergency Allowance. Last January, the DOH reaffirmed the implementation of these allowances with a total budget of P18.7 billion ($0.33 billion). However, until now, this benefit is still out of reach for most of the health workers in the country.
“Health workers, particularly those under salary grade 6, only earn at least P15,000 per month. When you compute it, with this salary, they can only spend at least P500 per day, and this amount is not enough, especially since inflation is worsening,” said Palma.
On the other hand, for the transport sector Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (PISTON), aside from the low income, the jeepney drivers and operators are also facing the long-standing problem of jeepney phaseout.
“The department orders and memorandum circular released by the DOTr and LTFRB severely affect the transport sector. This only shows how only those who have money can push for consolidation applications concerning PUV modernization. Because of this, many jeepney drivers and operators will be left behind and lose their source of income,” Ruben Baylon, 60, deputy secretary general of PISTON, said.
According to media reports, this year’s total increase for gasoline is P25.80 per liter, while prices of diesel and kerosene have increased to P35.75 and P32.15 per liter, respectively. This further shrinks the income of drivers and operators.
Calls for minimum wage increase across the board
In a report by Philippine Statistics Authority, the inflation rate increased to 7.7 percent at the end of October 2022, coming from 6.9 percent from the previous month, reaching its high-time since December 2008. Kilusang Mayo Uno Chairperson Elmer Labog reiterated that this all-time high increase is a rising call to strengthen the fight of the masses for liveable wages and working conditions.
“Our fight today requires urgency since the current wage of Filipino workers is not enough for their current conditions,” Labog said.
Last September 16, the Makabayan bloc led by Gabriela Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas filed House Bill (HB) no. 4898, or the National Minimum Wage Bill, which aims to scrap the current regional wage board system and propose a uniform national minimum wage to have a liveable salary for all Filipinos. Once enacted, the amount would be suggested by the National Wages and Productivity Board (NWPB).
However, Brosas said the national minimum wage shall be near, if not equal, to the prevailing family living wage (FLW) which is currently at P1,117 ($19.75) per day for a family of five. She also emphasized that the current wage rationalization or regionalization established around 1,000 wage levels across the country which are “nowhere near the living wage”.
“Wage discrepancies per region have also been exploited by businesses to provide lower wages for the same work. This has been the case for business process outsourcing (BPO) workers and several other industries,” Brosas added.
Minimum wage earners like Castillo said he supports this proposed law since their current salary is not enough to support their families. Furthermore, he urged their fellow workers in the commemoration of Bonifacio Day to assert their rights and to call for salary increases and fair working conditions.
“I came here to call for the government to raise the minimum wage all over the country, not just in the metro, and I hope that the P1,100 ($19.45) proposed salary per day would be granted since our current wage is not livable,” Castillo said. (JJE, RVO)