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Filipino workers struggle for a decent wage

Inflation and soaring prices of daily essentials have pushed millions of families into poverty, survey found
Demonstrators take part in a Labor Day rally in Manila on May 1, 2023. Labor groups and activists have been pushing for a decent living wage for workers in public, private and informal sectors amid soaring inflation and price hike.

Demonstrators take part in a Labor Day rally in Manila on May 1, 2023. Labor groups and activists have been pushing for a decent living wage for workers in public, private and informal sectors amid soaring inflation and price hike. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 19, 2024 04:08 AM GMT
Updated: February 19, 2024 07:39 AM GMT

Jan Raquiza, a utility worker in a school in Palo, a town in the central Philippines, gets 403 pesos (US$7) a day for his 10-hour backbreaking job.

The 37-year-old father of three has spent the last 11 years doing cleaning, repairs, maintenance, and other errands for the meager salary.

“I have three children to feed. My salary can barely sustain our needs,” Raquiza, a Catholic, told UCA News on Feb. 16.

As a casual employee, Raquiza is not covered by the Social Security System (SSS), unlike permanent staff.

The SSS is a government-managed social insurance program for workers in the private, professional, and informal sectors.

Raquiza said he has yet to find extra money to pay into his pension fund, even the minimal amount of 500 pesos in voluntary contributions.

“I hope our salary can go higher, or by at least 500 pesos. Due to a spike in the prices of daily essentials, we are struggling to survive on the current salary,” said Elmer Nadera, 37, a security guard in Palo.

One kilogram of rice, the staple food, now sells for 67 pesos, the highest in decades.

The price of gasoline has also soared.

Nadera said he needs to spend an additional US$2 per day on fuel for his motorcycle to travel to and from work.

“I am more worried about buying milk and diapers for my one-month-old baby,” he said.

A Filipino family needs at least 25,000 pesos for a decent living, according to the Catholic bishops’ social service agency, Caritas Philippines.

“But the minimum wage is only 14,000 pesos,” said Jing Rey Henderson, head of communications and partnership development at Caritas Philippines.

Since the start of 2024, Caritas Philippines, along with the Living Wage Foundation UK, the country’s National Federation of Labor (NFL), and other faith-based groups, has intensified its call for a decent living wage for Filipino workers.

The groups joined a round table discussion on Feb. 2 titled "A Fair Day’s Pay for a Fair Day’s Work."

“As a social action network and in the Church, justice is important, aside from love, peace, life, and dignity of the human person. It is important to discuss a living wage in the Church, especially since the Church is involved in charity and social action, the heart of the Catholic Church,” said Caritas Philippines executive director Father Tony Labiao Jr.

Rising numbers of poor people means many Filipinos “are deprived of a dignified way of life,” he said.

“The living conditions of a person must be good; thus, the salary must be sufficient to provide the conditions for a dignified life or dignified way of living. I hope this is a good start for us to provide an environment where we can go deeper into the topic of living wages,” Labiao said during the discussion.  

Some 13.2 million families, classified themselves as living in poverty in the third quarter of 2023, according to a survey from pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS).

Henderson maintained that achieving a living wage “provides quality and balance in work and life.”

NFL Vice President Elijah San Fernando also acknowledged the Church’s role in advancing the living wage issue.

“For many of us, the Church serves as a moral guide, and a living wage is a moral issue.  God is about justice. This gives justice to the working people. And the Church has a big contribution to make in promoting this living wage issue,” said Fernando.

“The labor issue is broad and quite sad, ranging from employment, unions, and wages. It is timely that we talk about it now,” added Fernando.

He also questioned why, despite the increase in the country’s gross domestic product or income and labor productivity, wages have not.

“Our constitution states that workers are entitled to tenure, working conditions, and a living wage,” said Fernando during the online discussion on Feb. 2.

‘Multi-sectoral approach to living wage’

Fernando suggested a multi-sectoral approach to implementing a living wage.

“We can do it in pilot areas where business is ready, the support is ready, and there's strong participation by civil society, and the Church,” the labor leader said.

He maintained that a living wage denotes a family can afford to fulfill basic human needs including food, clothing, housing, transportation, education and other essentials.

While he said that there were “positive developments” being worked out by the country’s lawmakers, he urged the public to remain focused in pursuing a decent living wage.

“We need the help of everyone, to hold our public officials to account. These are the issues that matter to us, particularly wages. We should talk about it, and it should be concrete and legislated,” he added.

Aside from the private sector, government employees are also hoping for salary hikes this year.

Ariel Gacang, a 45-year-old public school teacher in Leyte province, said his monthly salary of 30,000 pesos is not enough to support his family’s needs.

However, his hopes have been raised since Feb. 13 when a group of lawmakers filed a bill in parliament, seeking to double the entry-level salary of public school teachers.

The bill proposes a 50,000 peso monthly salary for public school teachers.

The teachers had a pay rise last year but inflation and a new tax law have eaten that up, lawmakers said.

“These measly increases are quickly eaten away by inflation and excise taxes, especially those brought by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law…The disparity between the salary and the family living wage continues to widen, as inflation steadily rises without corresponding timely increases in salaries,” the lawmakers said in a statement defending the bill.

Gacang said he is also worried about the education of his two children aged 15 and 16 who are set to study in college.

“With the soaring prices of goods, our salary is no longer enough [to pay for it],” he said.

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