Crumbs for labor
At the start of the month of May, the international community makes much of the world’s workers. The yearly to-do generally includes governments’ bestowal of benefits, whether small or significant, to honor the aggregate called labor that holds up the sky.
Industrial peace — harmony between labor and capital — is always and ever the ideal, the very key to the progress of nations and their peoples, and the planet in general.
In these parts, not once in recent memory has Labor Day passed without worker organizations holding mass actions to bewail their conditions and to seek the government’s attention regarding pressing issues such as the minimum wage. (No such thing occurred during the Marcos regime, not because it was the “golden age,” as the dictator’s heirs barefacedly claim, but because the slightest protest could literally get one killed.)
For example, today’s events include, as the Kilusang Mayo Uno has announced, nationwide demonstrations to protest President Duterte’s failed campaign promise to end the practice of labor contractualization (or “endo”); push for a daily minimum wage of P750; and call attention to the government’s passive stance vis-a-vis China’s intrusion into Philippine territory as well as certain issues affecting working conditions.
Observers would note a marked effort among workers to be creative in their protests, in an effort to draw flagging public attention to their cause.
For instance, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) began the eve of Labor Day with an “Almusalang Guro,” an “empty breakfast” of cooked rice and photos of ulam (food items) to “demonstrate,” the group said, teachers’ “incapacity to meet basic food needs” because of their pitiful pay and the continuing rise in the costs of essential goods.
They intended the dramatic gesture to serve as reminder to President Duterte that April 30 was the end of his set deadline to fulfill a promise made in January to double teachers’ salaries.
The militant ACT is not alone in its call to Mr. Duterte, who had earlier famously raised the salaries of police and military personnel to unprecedented heights. Teachers’ federations such as the Philippine Public School Teachers Association (PPSTA) have added their voice to the plaintive call.
“We are urging the President to make good on his word. He knows of teachers’ dedication in providing quality education to our youth amid challenging situations,” the teachers said in a letter signed by the PPSTA-National Capital Region (NCR) and the public school teachers associations of Manila, Las Piñas, Pateros, Malabon, Taguig, Quezon City, Caloocan and Marikina.
“We only ask for what is due us — decent salaries that will bring dignity to our noble profession,” they added.
Currently, the highest regional minimum wage is P537 in the NCR; the lowest is P256 in Region 1 (Ilocos). As early as April 26, even before the conservative Trade Union Congress of the Philippines issued a press release announcing its intention to seek an increase in the minimum wage, three labor groups — the Kilos na Manggagawa, comprising contractual workers; Metal Workers Alliance of the Philippines; and BPO Industry Employees Network—filed a petition in the NCR regional wage board to raise the minimum wage in Metro Manila by P213, or up to P750.
The three groups grounded their petition on the earlier statement of Ibon Research that a family of five needs at least P1,004 daily, or some P30,000 monthly, to be able to live a decent life.
This is the way things are in this surreal landscape of separate realities: Looters grow fat on pork barrel while teachers, nurses and other laborers who occupy the low rungs on the totem make do with crumbs — if any — after deductions.
Meanwhile, in keeping with this country’s labor export policy, millions of Filipinos continue to embrace the infinite perils of overseas work, braving hostile cultures and climates and, in nations caught in the grip of war, literally dodging bullets. They tear themselves away from home to be able to put food on the table for the families left behind. Their children grow up beyond their embrace. They return old or — the ultimate sacrifice — in a box.
The government is hardly sympathetic beyond the lip service of honoring the “new heroes” who try their fortunes abroad. And those who stay are left to the mercies of, if not loan sharks, the frightening power of nature: all but chained to work stations despite a 6.1-magnitude earthquake.
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