Filipino laborers call for ₱750 minimum wage hike

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From the mothers of the victims of the Kentex workers to jeepney operators, here are five different narratives of the people who marched at the Mayo Uno protests. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — On Labor Day, laborers and workers joined the protests from Mendiola to Liwasang Bonifacio as they demand for an end to contractualization, a ₱750 minimum wage hike, and the junking of the TRAIN Law, among others.

“Para sa isang magulang, napakasakit mawalan ng anak,” says Marilyn Yeo, who was in the Mayo Uno protests. She is the mother of Frederick Yco, one of the victims of the Kentex tragedy. “Ang anak ko, one month pa lang nakapasok sa Kentex. Hindi ko tanggap ang pagkawala niya,” she adds.

Almost four years have passed since the Kentex fire incident, yet justice for the families of the victims remains elusive. The laborers from the Kentex Manufacturing factory attended this year's Labor Day protest in hopes that the public would recognize their fight to achieve justice — especially for their loved ones whose lives were lost in the tragedy.

Rosemarie Magracia and Marilyn Yco, the mothers of the three victims who died from the Kentex fire incident that happened on May 13, 2015. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

For the Kentex workers, the fateful day wasn't an accident. Rather, it was caused by the management’s continuous neglect of workers’ safety precautions. Apart from that, a ₱205 wage doesn't compensate for the hours they put in, much less for the health risks they are exposed to.

“Sa totoo lang, walang binibigay ang management na protective gears sa mga kapwa manggagawa, at ito mismo ay danas na danas ko,” says Amid Rada, a survivor of the incident.

He also adds that only regularized workers and supervisors are fronted by the manufacturing company when inspected by the Department of Labor and Employment. Other workers are instructed to hide inside.

Since then, there is still no pre-trial for the case as it has been repeatedly postponed. The Kentex victims hope for justice to be fair to all.

Misael Melinas, the spokesperson of No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition (NTJPSC), says that the Department of Transporation's jeepney modernization program would cost them more than what the government can subsidize. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

Another participant in the demonstration is Misael Melinas, who has been a jeepney operator for 30 years. For 13 hours a day, he drives back and forth from Lagro to Novaliches to earn a meager amount of ₱800. If the jeepney modernization program pushes through, even if he takes passengers for 24 hours a day, Misael still won't be able to pay for the new jeepney. To replace the old ones, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) requires a modernized jeepney worth ₱2.2 million. His daily earnings, along with the ₱80,000 subsidy to be given to the jeepney operators, won't be enough to cover the cost.

In 2017, the DOTr signed The Omnibus Franchising Guidelines, which aims to modernize transportation systems, replacing over 200,000 old jeepneys all over the country. The jeepney franchises issued under the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines would replace the old jeepneys with units that have new engines and new features like GPS and CCTV cameras.

Not only would this effort be difficult for jeepney drivers, as most of them cannot afford the new vehicles, but this also puts drivers and operators at risk for contractualization. As the TRAIN Law has taken into effect, petrol prices have also skyrocketed.

"Dahil kulang sa non-teaching personnel ang mga public schools natin, ang mga ginagawa ng guro ay doble," says Ruby Bernardo, a public school teacher in Pasig. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

A jeepney driver's story goes like this: “If your wife flags you down, you say, ‘Asawa saglit lang, iikot lang ako, pagbalik ko, meron na tayong ulam,’” says Melinas. “Pero ‘pag napatupad na ang modernization program, iba na ang magiging itsura ng kwento. ‘Pag pinara ng asawa ang driver namin, ang isasagot ng asawa niya: ‘Asawa saglit lang, wala pang akinse at katapusan, dahil kami ay mga swelduhan na lamang.”

Ruby Bernardo, a Grade 10 public school teacher who has been teaching for eight years at Sta. Lucia High School in Pasig, was also at the protest. “Overworked, underpaid, yet under surveillance pa,” she says, describing her job.

A Teacher 1 like Ruby earns ₱20,174 a month. Her salary, although higher than her coworkers', is not enough to compensate for a teacher's workload. The teachers also pay out of pocket to provide school facilities and instructional materials that the school lacks, just so they can fulfill their duties and educate their students in the way that they deserve.

Recently, there have been new policies like the Results-based Performance Management System and the Philippine Professional Standard for Teachers (RPMS-PPST), which is a system wherein teachers are rated and evaluated on their performances. RPMS-PPST requires a huge amount of paperwork to prove that they have worked the entire year through various modes of verification.

“‘Yung trabaho ng teacher, hindi lang siya teacher sa loob ng paaralan. Dahil kulang sa non-teaching personnel ang mga public schools natin, ang mga ginagawa ng guro ay doble. Halimbawa, ang teacher ang gumagawa ng nutritional status ng mga bata, gardening, canteen manager, clinic, guidance at kahit clerk pa sa paaralan,” says Bernardo.

Benjamin Santos, a utility worker at the Philippine General Hospital, states that he still has not experienced wage increase since he started work in the hospital over 36 years ago. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

Taking all factors into consideration, including mandatory contributions to GSIS and Pag-IBIG, teachers are left with a maximum of ₱3,000 in their take-home pay. Even then, Bernardo's students continue to inspire her to fight for teachers’ labor rights and the provision of a curriculum that addresses the educational needs of the Filipino youth.

There’s also Benjamin Santos, who works at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and earns about ₱12,000 a month. Being in service for over 36 years, Santos, a utility worker at the Ophthalmology Department at PGH, states that he still has not experienced wage increase. 

“Malaking issue ang understaffing na tingin namin ay nakakaapekto sa pagbibigay ng magandang serbisyo para sa mga pasyente,” says Santos. “Overworked talaga dahil ang gobyerno natin ngayon ay nagtitipid at nagbabawas pa ng employees sa baba. Kami ang unang apektado niyan.

A utility foreman manages other utility workers who assist nurses for patient care. They are in charge of transporting patients and carrying them if necessary. Even as Benjamin sees that health services are lacking for patients, they themselves also experience the lack of health services which are supposedly free as stated in the Magna Carta for Health Workers.

“Syempre tumatanda ka, tumatagal ka na sa serbisyo. Dalawang beses na ako nagka-pulmonary tuberculosis sa hospital. Na-resolve naman pero ang tingin ko nakuha ko ‘yun dahil sa pagtatrabaho ko sa loob ng hospital,” says Santos.

Santos thinks that given the nature of his job, health and workplace safety should be the foremost concern. Aside from the call to end contractualization and increase the minimum wage, he also calls for the government to increase its annual health budget so that he, along with other health workers, can continue to serve the Filipino people.

Richard Sureta, a member of the San Roque chapter of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), works as a caregiver at a hospital but only earns ₱600 per month. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

“Masakit isipin na tatawagin ka sa sarili mong bansa na skwater tapos itatapon ka na lang sa mga liblib na lugar na walang kabuhayan, at hindi ka mabubuhay sa mga lugar na ‘yun,” says Richard Sureta, a member of the San Roque chapter of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY). This month, their homes are scheduled for demolition as a big developer plans to build a casino on the lands they have already been occupying for 30 years.

Some of them have been relocated to Bulacan, but are forced to return and rent spaces closer to work. Their salaries aren't enough to cover their transportation expenses, costing them money they could have used for food. According to Sureta, he works 24/7 as a caregiver at a nearby hospital but only earns ₱600 per month. He only eats one full meal a day to save money. When he was unemployed, he experienced doing just about anything to earn money.

“'Yung mga nawalan ng trabaho, umuuwi na lang ng probinsya. ‘Yung iba, patuloy pa rin sa pakikipagsapalaran hanggang sa makahanap ulit ng mapapasukan na malapit sa lugar nila. Mag-vendor, magtinda para mabuhay. Ganun lang ang style sa skwaters area,” says Sureta. “‘Pag hindi ka makakuha agad ng trabaho, mamumulot ka ng mga bote sa basura. Naranasan ko ‘yun. Magbebenta ka ng mga papel, karton, ganun.”

Apart from that, the war on drugs by the Duterte administration also affected the families left behind by breadwinners who were killed.

Sureta considered leaving the country and taking his chances abroad since he is fed up with the minimum wage the government imposes. He calls to push for the ₱750 minimum wage, and hopes that the government pays attention to the needs of the urban poor.