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Pay gov’t workers a living wage

The Inquirer editorial “Year of the Filipino Health Workers” (7/21/20) termed as “good news” the implementation of Republic Act No. 9173, the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002. This is true only for those in the nursing profession. This Act created a “labor aristocracy,” meaning an occupation that will be paid way above other professions. This system is not advisable, because: 1) it destroys teamwork in an organization; 2) it is the cause of demoralization; and 3) it could cause corruption as other lowly paid employees may make money on the side to compensate for their meager pay.

The controversy over a labor aristocracy dates from the introduction of the position classification system in the mid-1950s. The administrator of the system was the Wage and Position Classification Office (Wapco now the Organization, Position Classification and Compensation Bureau or OPCCB). Under this system, pay was based on the responsibilities of the position. The more responsible the duties, the higher the pay. However, this system has been undermined by agencies with a big number of personnel like the departments of Education and of Health. Before an election, they propose special laws with a higher pay than the Wapco scale. Politicians cannot say no to salary laws that will benefit a huge pool of voters.

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The solution to this problem is to construct a pay scale for the public service based on the “living wage principle.” In this manner, everybody in government will benefit. This was the goal of the job classification system when it was introduced in the Philippines in 1952. It is based on the “comparability” of wages in the private sector and the public service (“Salary laws don’t guarantee employees living wage,” Opinion, 12/5/15).

“Comparability” was never attained. At that time, the Wapco conducted salary surveys to determine the pay scale in the private sector. However, the pay scale in government based on the surveys was never implemented. The surveys were only implemented partially, say 50 percent of the increase recommended by the Wapco. The Budget Commission (now the Department of Budget and Management) would cut the salary increase, claiming “lack of funds.” In due course, salaries in the public sector lagged far behind the private sector, a situation that exists to this day. The placement of the Wapco under the DBM created this problem. The DBM’s function is to balance the budget. Thus, agency budget requests are routinely trimmed by the DBM, and this includes salary increases for government personnel. Two laws, RA 2260 (Civil Service Law of 1959) and Presidential Decree No. 1 (1972 Integrated Re-organization Plan), place the OPCCB under the CSC where the function of salary administration properly belongs. (This is the setup in most countries of the world.)

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However, this provision has not been implemented because of the uncertainty of funding. When the IRP was adjourned in 1972, the Committee on Civil Service, where this author was a member, stipulated that the OPCCB be transferred to the CSC “upon full implementation,” meaning upon payment of a living wage.

Then as now, the DBM claims that we cannot afford to pay a living wage. We have taken exception to this reasoning since the 1950s. Our argument then, which is still valid now, is that funds lost due to corruption, if saved, will be enough to pay a living wage. The PhilHealth corruption costing P154 billion, plus the elimination of the congressional pork barrel allocations, should be enough to meet this goal.

A major problem in this regard is the indifference of Congress to conducting a hearing on the implementation of the merit laws. Congress should put the OPCCB under the CSC and amend Sec. 2, RA 6758 (Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989) to make explicit that the goal of the Act is to pay a living wage.

Our economy has grown, and if not for COVID-19, we would have become a Third World country with upper-level income this year. All our public servants, not just the nurses, deserve a living wage.

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Hermenegildo C. Cruz is a retired career ambassador. He served in both the committee on foreign affairs and the committee on civil service of the Integrated Re-organization Commission 1969-72, giving him expertise in diplomacy and public administration. He has degrees in both disciplines: BA Public Administration, University of the Philippines, and MA in Law and Diplomacy, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

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TAGS: Commentary, government workers, Hermenegildo C. Cruz, living wage
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