“On close scrutiny, the SSL 4 actually offers little, but takes away more from what we already have.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — For the past 36 years, engineer Reynaldo Sarita has been working in the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO), an attached agency of Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Often, Sarita is doing fieldwork, helping build infrastructures for the government’s free wi-fi project nationwide.
In spite of the risks and even with the meager allowance of P800 ($17) per day in fieldwork, Sarita performs his tasks for the Filipino people.
Government employees like Sarita are enraged with Congress’s version of Salary Standardization 4 (SSL 4), which will repeal, amend or modify the various Magna Cartas for specialized profession such as Sarita’s, as well as that of nurses and health workers, scientists and other government employees engaged in dangerous and hazardous work conditions.
According to Ferdinand Gaite, national president of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), the SSL 4 will repeal the Magna Carta for public health workers, for public teachers, for public social workers, for scientists, engineers, researchers and other science and technology personnel in the government. It also means revocation of other benefits gained under the Collective Negotiations Agreement.
Joey Matias, ICTO employees union president, said employees of the DOST-ICTO receive at least P7,000 per month for hazard pay. He said the government is indeed heartless for giving the biggest salary increases only to those in the executive position like the President, taking away the hard-earned benefits of the rank-and-file employees.
In a press conference on Thursday, Feb. 4, leaders of various unions under the All Government Employees Unity gathered to announce their big protest on Feb. 16, dubbed as “Black Hearts Day.”
“You have a meager salary and then, they suddenly take away your benefits. Naghihingalo ka na nga, tinanggalan ka pang lalo ng hininga dahil sa repealing clause na yan,” Matias said.
Benefits under the Magna Carta
Robert Mendoza, Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) national president, said that health workers and other government employees deployed in dangerous and hazardous conditions are guaranteed protection under the Magna Carta laws.
These benefits, said Mendoza, are recognition of the nature of work of the health workers, as well as other government workers, in consideration of the risks they take in performance of their duty.
“We have to report on duty even during typhoons, we cross rivers to get to our patients and regularly go on night duty because people’s lives and health care are in our hands,” Mendoza said.
The Magna Carta for public health workers or Republic Act 7305 mandates that a public health worker designated in hospitals, radiation-exposed clinics and other health-related establishments located in difficult areas, shall be compensated hazard allowance.
Hazard allowances are also given to scientists, engineers such as Sarita and Matias who are exposed in radiation laboratories and service workshops and designated in remote or depressed areas.
Those who are in Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) are also in hazardous working area. “Imagine that, they are working near a volcano. Then those who made this bill (SSL 4) will take all their benefits, just like that. They did not really think this through,” said Matias.
“We are not saying that we are special, but our work is. Where is the compassion for the government employees who are really on the ground?” he added.
They also lamented that those in the executive positions have their own personnel that they designate to go on fieldwork to implement government projects for the Filipino people. “Taga-utos lang sila,” (They just give orders.) Matias said.
Discrimination against local government employees
Meanwhile, local government employees decried discrimination as they have long been given the lowest salary in the government.
Erwin Lanuza of the League of Local Government Unit Employees (LEAGUE) said that amid the series of salary standardization in the previous administration, they only received a fraction of what their counterpart in the national government received. The salary of employees in the local government units (LGU) is dependent on the financial capacity of the LGUs.
Lanuza said most LGU employees will only receive 65 percent of the salary increase provided in SSL 4. He said LGU employees have also been denied of the salary differentials under the SSL 3 enacted under the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
He, too, lamented how dedicated government employees are not well-compensated.
“A government employee goes to work every day, even if he or she is not feeling well. Rain or shine, they go to their designated work stations or in communities in far-flung areas to provide public service. And yet, we only get a measly salary,” he said.
Lanuza slammed the proposed P2,000 ($42) increase in salary grade 1 or entry level rank-and-file employee. This means that the P9,000 ($188) salary of a rank and file employee will increase to P11,000 ($230). “Then they will give the increase in tranches, in four years. Where is justice there?” he asked.
The P9,000 salary for rank-and-file employee would even be lower for rank-and-file employees in poor municipalities, he added.
He then challenged government officials. “E kung subukan kaya nilang sila ang mag-ikot sa mga komunidad sa iba’t ibang kapuluan?” (Why don’t they try to go to the communities in different parts of the country?)
He said their demand is P16,000 ($334) national minimum wage for public and private sector. “This is just half of the P30,000 ($627) family living wage, and yet this government can’t give it. How insensitive and heartless can this government be?” Lanuza said.
Vigilance against Plan B
Congress has failed to pass SSL 4 before it went on break for the next four months. Although this favors government employees, COURAGE called on their members to be vigilant and continue to express opposition to the said bill.
Gaite said there are proposals for the President to just issue an Executive Order just so to save his face for vetoing the Social Security System pension hike. “We stressed that we are against this bill and we will not stop in protesting against this,” he said.
“We have no salary increase in more than five years under the Aquino administration but we are not desperate and despondent to accept a pay hike scheme that looks appealing because it is after all a pay increase. But on close scrutiny, the SSL 4 actually offers little, but takes away more from what we already have,” said Santi Dasmariñas Jr., National Federation of Employees Associations in Agriculture (Nafeda) national president.