“Our call is for the government to provide immediate relief to the lowly state workers who are reeling not just from the rising cost of basic commodities but also from the effects of the taking away by the government of our hard-earned benefits.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – In a recent protest action in Mendiola, state employees demanding for an increase in their basic pay symbolically “pulled” the nail that pinned their salaries. They demanded from President Benigno “Noynoy” C. Aquino III to do the same but this time in reality.
“This rally is to remind the president that the state workers need a significant wage increase and not another wage freeze,” Rose Nartates, secretary general of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees, said.
State workers have recently received the last tranche of their salary increase, as provided for in the Salary Standardization Law 3. But they said it only benefitted high ranking officials.
“The SSL 3 effectively doubled the president’s and other high government officials’ salaries while those at the lower levels, the majority of public servants and those who much needed a pay raise, received only a pittance, spread over a period of four years,” Nartates said.
With this, she added, state employees will no longer accept another SSL as it “would effectively freeze anew our salaries for the next four years.”
State workers reiterated their call for a $139 increase in the minimum pay for the country’s 1.4 million employees. This, they said, would address the “need to make minimum pay closer to the living cost, which now amounts to $698 a month.”
From the eyes of a local government employee
Erwin Lanuza, 42, an employee in the Quezon City Hall, said local government employees suffer the worst because the Salary Standardization Law 3 did not require other cities and municipalities to follow the increase in their salaries.
“Why should they allow it? Prices of basic commodities are no different in the provinces. At times it is even more expensive, say the price of gasoline,” Lanuza told Bulatlat.com, adding that development and increases in salaries should not be selective.
With this, Lanuza said 70 percent of employees in the Quezon City hall are “baon sa utang.” They could hardly recover from their debts because of the “vicious cycle” that they are in.
Salaries of government employees cannot cover their needs. In the case of employees in the Quezon City hall, some receive only $162 to $209 a month. “If you subtract all the compulsory deductions, their take home pay is roughly $81 a month.”
This is a far cry from the minimum pay of workers in the private sector in the National Capital Region, which is $10 a day.
Such situation has brought so many loan sharks lurking around their offices. Lanuza said it is hard for their co-workers to resist the offers of loan sharks since they are in dire need to get money to send their children to school, among other expenses. He estimated that about 70 percent of rank and file government employees have debts to these loan sharks.
With their low salaries, they are not even able to pay loan sharks on time. There were some cases, Lanuza said, that employees get arrested for estafa for their failure to pay their debts.
“Our dire situation has not improved for the past years. What makes it all the more frustrating and even insulting was the recent plan of the Aquino administration to lend money to the International Monetary Fund to help European countries when we have a crisis right here in government agencies,” Lanuza said.
Lanuza reminded Aquino that an increase in the salary of government employees and even other workers employed in the private sector would benefit the economy.
“It would also increase our purchasing power. Whatever increase we will get, it would still go back to the flow of cash in the economy,” he added.
Sona of the state workers
Meanwhile, employees working in national government agencies said that the last tranche of the SSL 3 has not improved their living conditions at all. The last tranche was given a month early to state workers by the Aquino administration last Labor day.
In a press conference on July 9, Wage Fight convener Mar Aguilar said that after the full implementation of the Salary Standardization Law 3, “Salary Grade 1 or the minimum pay is significantly lower than the minimum wage of workers in the private sector.”
Even public employees in the health sector also complained about their low salaries. “Our workload is getting heavier, the risks we encounter becomes higher but our meager salaries are neglected while our government is hell bent on lending $1 billion to the IMF-World Bank,” Jossel Ebesate, president of the Alliance of Health Workers, said.
He said that the last tranche of the SSL 3 did not give justice to “health workers who take care of 50 to 80 patients per nurse for eight hours of work and sometimes even 16 to 24 hours duty when there is a typhoon or flooding.”
Health workers, Ebesate said, are pegged at Salary Grade 1 while staff nurses, after the last tranche of the SSL 3, receive only $431. “This is why nurses, doctors and other health workers are demoralized and aim to go abroad even if we are in dire need of their services.”
“The real value of our salaries even after the SSL3 has been eroded by inflation over time. Our call is for the government to provide immediate relief to the lowly state workers who are reeling not just from the rising cost of basic commodities but also from the effects of the taking away by the government of our hard-earned benefits,” Aguilar said.