By BETTINA CATLI
The main concern of students, especially college students, is to pass subjects and finally be handed a diploma – the fruit of four or five years’ work, borne out of tears and sleepless nights. Once this is done, scores of fresh graduates go out into the world and join the labor force, hoping to earn their keep and become productive contributors to the economy.
I, for one, am anxious to begin carving out my place in the world, to wake up each day knowing that each hour I put in will mean another coin for my future. But as I sat and listened in a labor forum at a room in St. Luke’s Medical Center, I realized that what I knew about the workforce barely scratched the surface of the real world.
The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (Eiler) says 38 million people were employed in 2014. Of these, 54 percent are in the service sector, 30 per cent in the agriculture sector, and 16 percent in the industry sector. Millions of Filipinos have jobs, but most of them have experienced unfair treatment which they could do nothing about because they didn’t know how the system works or that they are being manipulated into a convoluted mindset about the system.
Take for example the issue of contractualization. I know about this but not the depth of exploitation that was going on. Contractuals have been robbed of decent pay, benefits, and security of tenure.
“After a year of continuous service, one should become a regular employee. But with contractualization, they won’t finish a year. Some have contracts for only 11 months,” said Wally Buencamino of EILER at the forum.
This, for me, is very cruel. It’s like climbing up and reaching the top of a precarious hill, where you see a bridge, then someone pulls you back down. How can one have stability if they suddenly pull the rag out under you?
Another issue is the salary. The work hours are long and the pay does not even begin to cover expenses for a stable living. It is very expensive to live in a city and the prices of goods skyrocket each season while oil prices suddenly hike up.
The minimum wage is P481 ($11) in the National Capitol Region. The Family Living Wage (FLW), or the minimum amount a family of six must earn to cover their basic needs, is set at P1,086 ($24) for NCR. The difference is astounding.
The system is unjust. But how can people realize just how much they are being used? Buencamino stressed the importance of labor unions. He said that one complaint will go unnoticed but a unified complaint by many people will be heard, and it is only through organizing that fairness can be reached.
“If there is no union, the capitalist can do what he wants,” he said. That is why unions are crucial.
I think that educating the masses plays an important role as well. Everyone must be educated about the situation of the workforce, especially students like me, who will eventually be part of it.
I am lucky that I got a glimpse of what lies before me. I will not have to enter the “real world” blind, only to be led to the precarious hill. Looking at the faces of the men and women in the forum, I thought, these people probably felt the same, only, now they know enough that maybe they could fight for fairness and justice.