Amid ‘dubious poverty estimates,’ govt employees press for P16k monthly minimum wage

P16,000 minimum wage
‘With the dire situation of government employees nowadays, their call for a standardized P16,000 minimum wage has become more urgent.’ (Photo by M. Salamat / Bulatlat)

There is a huge difference between the salaries of top government officials, including Cabinet secretaries and Undersecretaries like Diokno and Edillon on one hand, and the salaries of ordinary rank-and-file employees on the other hand.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Two officials in the Duterte Cabinet earned the ire and bitter jokes of netizens and various groups recently. Against widely perceived impact of TRAIN (Tax Reforms for Acceleration and Inclusion) on price increases, Budget Sec. Benjamin Diokno belittled its impact and sought to put the blame instead on other things out of government control. He cited the global rise in oil prices. He continued to promote TRAIN against growing calls to suspend it at the least or junk it at the most. He disparaged those complaining about it as ‘crybabies’.

NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon, meanwhile, gained notoriety for NEDA when she claimed in a press conference Tuesday that a monthly income of P10,000 ($190.4) means a family of five has enough not to be called poor. Sarcastic responses abound in social media. Even some politicians who supported TRAIN also joined in lambasting the claim.

For issuing such claims, these two Cabinet officials are being criticized now as insensitive, unrealistic, inhabiting a different realm/planet, not grounded on reality, ridiculous, dangerous, liars, to name a few. The Kilusang Mayo Uno sensed danger in the NEDA official’s tact. “They are essentially attempting to justify low wages, joblessness, high taxes and other policies detrimental to workers and the poor,” it said in a statement Wednesday.

At a press conference of union leaders from the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), Wednesday, June 6, they blasted as well these two officials’ claims. And while they are explaining why the P16,000 ($305) minimum wage hike for government employees is urgent now, they inadvertently showed why government officials such as these two are in fact coming from a different realm.

There is a huge difference between the salaries of top government officials, including Cabinet secretaries and Undersecretaries like Diokno and Edillon on one hand, and the salaries of ordinary rank-and-file employees on the other hand. From the unionists’ discussion, this huge gap is no accident. It resulted from what’s provided by law, the SSL-4, or Salary Standardization Law. It provided salary hikes in tranches.

But much of the increases in SSL-4 went to public employees and officials occupying the top salary grades. Only a pittance went to those in lower salary grades, the most numerous employees and direct providers of government services who also needed the salary increase the most.

COURAGE chairman Ferdinand Gaite estimated that based on SSL-4 descriptions of salary grades, Budget Secretary Diokno most likely belongs to Salary Grade or SG 31. After all, mused Gaite, the Department Undersecretaries are listed as SG 30.

SG 31 employees stand to receive more than P257,000 ($4,894) per month by the time the fourth tranche of the SSL-4 is distributed. As for Diokno, COURAGE unionists estimate he also receives on top of his monthly salaries various allowances, from miscellaneous to intelligence to representation allowances, etc. As Budget Secretary, Diokno is expected to sit on the board of various other government agencies and corporations. Each regular meeting he attends here roughly means an allowance of P20,000 ($381); each special meeting P15,000 ($286). He probably sits on the board of at least 10 government agencies or corporations, but usually, it’s more than 10, Gaite said.

Gaite also mentioned Solicitor General Jose Calida, who received P8.7 million ($165,670) in total allowances last year, P7.7 million ($146,628) more than the maximum legal honorarium he could receive from the government, according to the Commission on Audit.

According to COURAGE, Diokno’s monthly P257,000-plus ($4,894) salary, excluding the allowances and bonuses, is several times bigger the ordinary government employees’ salaries.

The current minimum wage in the public sector is currently pegged at P10,510 monthly ($200). The salaries of employees in local governments are even lower. In a sixth class municipality, salaries are only 65 percent of those in national government agencies. As such, the minimum wages in local governments are lower, just around P6,831 ($130) monthly.

COURAGE in a statement said such minimum wages are a far cry from the monthly living wage of more than P33,000 ($628) according to IBON.

There are about 830,000 employees in 1,715 local government units. Erwin Lanuza, president of the Quezon City Hall employees union and the Local Government Union of Employees (LEAGUE), described the SSL-provided gap in minimum wages of national and local offices as “exploitative and discriminatory.” A significant number of the nearly one million local government employees are in lowly classified (first to sixth class) municipalities, Lanuza said.

Ironically, it is the government employees’ unions led by COURAGE who worked hard to campaign for the salary hike. But when the government responded through SSL-4 (Executive Order 201), Gaite said, “We are the ones who sow but they’re the ones who reaped big,” referring to the bosses in government.

The result today is not just the still unresolved problem of low salaries for most of the government employees. The salaries in government also seem as far as possible from a semblance of standardization. Aside from the LGU-national offices divide, different standards apply also even among employees in similar salary grades. For example, those in GOCCs.

SSL-4
NFA Employees Association president Maximo Torda (Photo by M. Salamat)

Maximo Torda, president of NFA Employees Association, condemned the discrimination being suffered by the employees of NFA, NIA and other government corporations providing frontline services. He said the SSL-mandated increases have been implemented in the past two years, but not for them.

The lowest salary grade in NFA goes to workers lifting sacks of rice. Receiving some P11,000 ($209) monthly, by 2019 after the last tranche of wage hike under SSL-4 was granted, these workers would have received just about P1,000 ($19) total increase in four tranches, Torda said. Since some of the wage hikes have not been implemented on them he said these workers have received only about P500 ($9.52) wage hike so far. “But rice has increased from P30 ($0.57) at the start of SSL-4 to P49 ($0.93) per kilo this year.

The government employees also criticized the “one-sided priority” of the Duterte administration. It doubled the salaries of police and soldiers but did not prioritize the increase in salaries also of the civilian employees.

The gathered leaders of unions in the public sector reiterated their demand for a national minimum wage of P16,000. “It should be for all government employees, regardless of whether they are in local government units, national government agencies, government-owned and controlled corporations and others.”

Courage leaders said P16,000 ($304.68)is still less than half the estimated P33,000 ($628) family living wage. But the government employees’ status now has worsened from “isang kahig isang tuka” (one scratch, one peck or hand to mouth). It takes them more than three scratches now before they could peck at anything.

Lanuza said government employees now only survive by being experts at “London” (getting loans here and there). It has come to a point, he said, that if you ask the employees where their ATM card is (the government deposits their salary into their ATM account), you will find it hard to find an employee still in possession of it. Lanuza said most government employees’ future salaries have largely already been spent. ()

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