Making ends meet remains a problem for minimum-wage earners. For other salaried employees, living a simple, comfortable life remains a dream. Such is the fate of many Filipinos who depend on salaries and wages to keep them and their families above the poverty line.
The minimum wage has hardly kept up with the times. In 2015, for instance, labor groups petitioned for an increase of P136 a day for minimum-wage earners in Metro Manila, but the government approved only P15. Last year, labor sought a wage increase of P154 a day, but the government approved only P11, bringing the minimum wage to the current P491 a day for nonfarm workers in Metro Manila.
The Philippine Statistics Authority calculated that in 2015, a family of five needed at least P6,329 every month to meet its basic food needs, or P42.20 per person a day (roughly P14 per meal, assuming three meals a day), and at least P9,064 a month to meet both basic food and nonfood needs, or P302 a day or P60.40 per person a day. Can one actually survive on these meager amounts? These figures represent the monthly food threshold and monthly poverty threshold, respectively.
Living the barest comfortable life is much harder and will remain a dream for many wage earners. A survey conducted by the National Economic and Development Authority last year showed that a Filipino household of four should have a gross monthly income of P120,000 to live a “simple, comfortable life,” which means having enough money for day-to-day needs, owning a car and a medium-sized house, traveling occasionally around the country, sending two children to college, and socializing with family and friends. The survey showed that 79.2 percent of Filipinos aspire for this simple, comfortable life. But current minimum-wage earners need to earn 10 times their salaries today if they are to attain such an aspiration.
Even Filipinos working overseas are not spared their share of difficulties. Earlier this month, the government announced that it has so far brought home 19,201 stranded and undocumented overseas Filipino workers through its intensified repatriation campaign for distressed Filipino workers in the Middle East. The repatriation, undertaken under the Relief Assistance Program of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, cost the government nearly P500 million from July 2016 to March 2017.
Here at home, the problem of fake recruiters persists and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello has again warned Filipinos desiring overseas employment against fake job openings circulating online. He urged them to always be wary of the “too-good-to-be-true job offers” being posted on the internet and to deal only with licensed recruitment agencies.
There also remains the thorny issue of contractualization. While the Department of Labor and Employment has issued D.O. No. 174 prohibiting labor-only contracting, it was pointed out that only Congress, not the DOLE, could completely ban contractualization. While the DOLE order “absolutely prohibits labor-only contracting and specifies other illicit forms of contractual employment arrangements,” it listed certain “permissible contracting and subcontracting” practices.
It is indeed difficult to be a wage earner in this part of the world. However, there are possible solutions to alleviate the plight of wage earners. For those earning more than the minimum wage but still far from having a simple, comfortable life, savings remain an option toward reaching that goal. Financial literacy—knowing the essentials of family budgeting and investing—will help a lot. Engaging in micro businesses remains a very viable option as well. For others, cooperatives present a good option.
On Labor Day, there seems to be nothing much that workers can expect from the government and employers insofar as getting the right wages is concerned. It appears that workers need to find solutions to their problems mainly on their own.
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