By TRISTAN JAMES BIGLETE
MANILA — For unionist Alan Balaba, president of the Social Welfare Employees Association of the Philippines (SWEAP), the regular benefits expected to be received by the end of the year would only be used to pay off debts.
“Oil prices have continued to increase, and even prices of food have increased as well. It’s connected, especially with Christmas coming. It does not help that our salary increase has not substantially helped those government workers belonging to low salary grade brackets,” Balaba said.
In January last year, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11466 (Salary Standardization Law of 2019). While the law grants lower percentage increases for those belonging to Salary Grades 25 to 33 (e.g., President, Vice President, House Speaker, Chief Justice, cabinet secretaries), the nominal increase for those belonging to the lowest salary grades is hardly felt given the increasing prices of food. What exacerbates the situation is that the law’s full implementation will not be until 2023.
The September 2021 inflation rate is pegged at 4.8 percent, above the government’s target of two to four percent. The increases in prices have made basic goods and services, especially food, beyond the reach of many low-income Filipino families.
To assist government workers, SWEAP and Courage, a national network of government employees unions, are renewing their calls for a minimum monthly salary of P16,000 ($317) and a P4,000-increase ($80) in the monthly salary of government employees belonging to the Salary Grade 1.
Benefits should also be provided
In a letter to President Duterte and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Courage demanded additional cash incentives for government workers. This, Courage President Santiago Dasmariñas said, will recognize them as people in dire need of “meaningful economic relief and such measures would jumpstart our country’s post-pandemic economic recovery.”
Dasmariñas, for one, said the government can lift the P25,000-cap from their Collective Negotiation Agreement. The cap on this incentive was first implemented under the previous Aquino administration and was later funded through the government agency’s savings as it was excluded from the national budget.
Apart from the cap, other restrictions were also stipulated, such as the CNA incentive being given only to government agencies that have completed 70 percent of their target programs by September 30. This is unacceptable for Dasmariñas because there are government projects targeted for completion in the last quarter of the year.
Courage also urged the Duterte administration to double the Productivity Enhancement Incentive (PEI) from P5,000 to P10,000 ($99.54 to $199). PEI is an annual incentive based on an executive order by former President Noynoy Aquino.
Contractual workers also need help
Government workers unions also demand more benefits for those hired as “job orders” (JOs) and “contract of service” (COS) workers. This includes a gratuity pay of P10,000 ($199) as they are not covered by benefits that permanent government workers are receiving.
According to the Civil Service Commission (CSC), more than 650,000 JO and COS workers were assigned across different government branches in August last year. These contractual workers, Kawani Laban sa Kontraktwalisasyon’s Roxanne Fernandez said, usually receive low compensation with no benefits even if they are working in the frontlines amid the pandemic.
“The government knows how difficult it has been for contractual government workers. We feel the discrimination as we receive less but continue to carry out the same tasks as tenured workers,” Fernandez said, adding that if only Duterte fulfilled his election promise of ending contractualization, they would not have to put up with this now.
Contractual employees asked for gratuity pay earlier in Duterte’s term but received less than half of the amount they demanded.
Facing such unfair conditions, Fernandez said contractual employees are also buried in debts and are struggling to pay the tuition of their children. The lack of security of tenure is also distressing, she added. “Our life is always at the mercy of our bosses who decide if they will renew our contract. It feels like the lives of our entire family are also in their hands.” (JJE, DAA)