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Paying more than peanuts

WHEN A presidential candidate promised to double salaries of the police and military as a concrete step to stop criminality, skeptics immediately rushed to point out that the law standardizing government salaries would not make that straightforward.

Indeed, Section 5, Article IX-B of the 1987 Constitution states: “The Congress shall provide for the standardization of compensation of government officials and employees, including those in government owned and controlled corporations with original charters, taking into account the nature of the responsibilities pertaining to, and the qualifications required for, their positions.” This was put into action by Republic Act No. 6758 (the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989), popularly known as the Salary Standardization Law (SSL).

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There’s a familiar saying that goes, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys,” suggesting that good-quality employees would come with good compensation. This is not to say that low-wage workers will not offer good service; there are, after all, still many who are driven by more than salaries to do their jobs well, including quiet saints who derive personal fulfillment from genuine service. And then there are the rest of us who work to make a better life for ourselves and our families, with a better salary being an overriding factor in our choice of jobs.

The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), in its “AmBisyon Natin 2040” project, has determined that most Filipinos dream, simply put, “to live comfortably.” From the highlights of the national survey on the aspirations of the Filipino people, Neda observed that the average Filipino envisions him/herself in 2040 “to enjoy a stable and comfortable lifestyle, secure in the knowledge that we have enough for our daily needs and unexpected expenses, that we can plan and prepare for our own and our children’s futures. Our families live together in a place of our own, yet we have the freedom to go where we desire, protected and enabled by a clean, efficient and fair government.”

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In a country rife with people living in poverty and insecurity in their access to food, housing and livelihoods, it’s no wonder that our people aspire for stability. The typical parents’ dream for their children, especially among the poor, is for them to land a good job, which invariably means getting a good salary. Indeed, the Filipino diaspora overseas is all about workers seeking a stable source of remunerative pay.

Against this backdrop, it should not be surprising that numerous government positions remain unfilled. For the longest time, government salaries have not been competitive with those in the private sector. After the SSL III passed in 2009, the “P7,000 Increase in Minimum Pay Act of 2013” and a 20-percent increase in government salaries were proposed as measures for catching up, not with private-sector salaries, but with the rising cost of living. The SSL IV passed last year aims to bring government pay to at least 70 percent of corresponding private-sector levels. Lawmakers hope that the improved compensation (among other new benefits the law provides) will improve employee retention and attract a wider pool of talent into the government.

The wage disparity has obvious repercussions. The bulk of our graduates do not aim for government jobs. Those who do end up in the government become prone to corrupt practices to augment meager incomes. Front-line employees in positions primed for petty corruption like “padulas” or under-the-table payments often find their justification in “not being compensated enough.” This is a point of concern. “Ambisyon Natin 2040” indicates that Filipinos want this kind of corruption eliminated. While it is large-scale corruption that makes the news, it is this grassroots form of corruption that is directly felt by the ordinary Filipino, on an almost daily basis. A police officer (PO) 1 earns a base pay of P13,492 per month. That cashier or front-line clerk at Customs or the licensing office probably gets less than P25,000 a month.

Meanwhile, the Partido Manggagawa estimated the cost of living in 2013, including education, health and communication expenses for a family of six in Metro Manila to be P37,088/month or P1,217/day. And jobs such as PO1, cashier or front-line clerk at Customs or the licensing office are thankless jobs with clients who often become irate because of long lines and crisscrossing bureaucratic red tape. While bribery is never justifiable, it’s easy to see why civil servants resort to such “petty” corruption. Even if one starts out at a public service career with an idealistic motivation to serve fellow Filipinos, it’s easy to feel undervalued, demoralized and demotivated when one is underpaid, and often overworked at that. And even as cash can never match appreciation and fulfillment at the workplace, it still helps employees if they don’t have to worry about paying that loan taken out for their child’s tuition, or their pregnant wife’s hospital bills.

The SSL IV will raise a PO1’s salary to P27,800 and improve his/her benefits. It will boost the P25,000 wage earner’s pay by P10,000. The total wage hike will be given in tranches over four years, with the first tranche already part of the 2016 Philippine budget. Many see it self-serving for legislators to have passed this law when they did. But it’s been said often enough: “Take care of your people and they will take care of you.”

If the government starts taking care of its employees, starting with paying them better compensation, they will start taking better care of the Filipino public. Uplifting the standard of living of government employees is a significant step toward reaching “Ambisyon Natin 2040.”

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TAGS: opinion, salary, Salary Standardization Law, SSL, wage
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