How about minimum wage for gov’t workers?

How about minimum wage for gov’t workers?

/ 05:06 AM February 29, 2024


The Senate and the House of Representatives are trying to outdo each other in a contest of who will look, sound, and smell best to our nation’s workforce.

The Senate has passed a bill proposing a P100 increase in the daily minimum wage for private sector workers. Refusing to be outdone, House members have proposed a higher increase of up to P350 per day.


Our legislators cite as reasons the need to address “the significant decline in workers’ real wages and their diminishing purchasing power.” These reasons are true. An increase in minimum daily wage is justified, but it must be at a level supported by factual statistics on the employee side, tempered by economic realities on the employer side, and not plucked out of thin air by grandstanding lawmakers.


But what gets my goat is the temerity of our legislators to pompously represent themselves as champions of workers’ welfare when they actually turn a blind eye on the exploitation of workers in their own backyard. The government of the Republic of the Philippines, to which these lawmakers belong, is the biggest abuser of workers. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary workers toil in government offices, receiving wages way below the minimum wage that’s made mandatory for the private sector. Worse, these exploited public workers can be terminated at any time even if they’ve been working for more than 10 years, unlike their counterparts in the private sector who enjoy security of tenure. These unfairly treated government workers who receive starvation wages are euphemistically called “contract of service” or “job order” employees.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers party list Rep. France Castro previously disclosed that 648,215 government employees work on contract of service or job order arrangements, citing figures from the Inventory of Government Human Resources as of June 2022. It was not made clear if these figures only include workers in national government agencies, because if that’s the case, there can be exponentially more of these workers toiling in provincial, city, municipal, and barangay local government units.

So why are private sector laborers entitled to minimum wage and security of tenure, while public sector workers are denied the same privileges? The justification given is that the Labor Code—which makes these wage and tenure benefits mandatory—is applicable only to private sector laborers, and not to public sector workers. But that’s an outrageously shallow and insensible justification, given the reasons trumpeted by legislators to justify daily minimum wage increases? Pray tell, aren’t government workers affected by a “significant decline in workers’ real wages and their diminishing purchasing power”? Are public workers unaffected by high prices? Are they immune from starvation? If our lawmakers can proudly show off their bleeding hearts for private sector wage earners, why aren’t they capable of showing equal empathy for public workers who toil in their very midst? Does this not amount to utter hypocrisy?

A constitutional challenge should be mounted, questioning the unequal protection of the law perpetuated by our government. The welfare of private sector laborers is the sole criteria considered in imposing mandatory minimum wage, irrespective of the welfare of employers. The reverse is true for government workers. The welfare of the employer (the state) is the sole criteria considered in the nongrant of the same minimum wage privileges for government workers, irrespective of the starvation condition of public employees.

Another excuse, normally offered for the unequal treatment of public sector workers, is that the government lacks the funds to pay minimum wage for hundreds of thousands of job order workers. But do our congresspersons equally consider the capacity of business owners to pay when they propose a daily increase of P350 in mandated minimum wage? And what lack of government funds are they talking about? Congress conspired with the Duterte administration in exorbitantly increasing the salaries and retirement pay of hundreds of thousands of police, military, and bureau of fire personnel, without thinking of whether or not the government has funds. Besides, lawmakers are awash with funds for their individual budgets, and many executive officials have fund allocations that they can hardly spend every year. This is not to mention the controversial and outrageous confidential funds of public officials.

Many of our government workforce who toil at starvation wages serve as barangay health workers, act as day care employees, clean offices, work as messengers, augment security and administrative services, tend to public gardens, among others. While lawmakers and political leaders create chaos and mess in our public institutions, the army of humble public servants bring order and cleanliness in our government. Public workers must be honored with living wages.



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TAGS: Minimum Wage, opinion, salary

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