By JILIANNE BAUTISTA and MAJOY SISCAR
MANILA – Various government workers’ unions have gathered to call for higher pay and better working conditions as they assail the apparent indifference of the Marcos Jr. administration to their plight.
“I think the government should give attention to the proper salary for public employees and minimum wage earners,” said Florante Gacis of the Kapisanan ng mga Manggagawa sa GOCCs at GFIs (KAMAGGFI).
As it stands, government employees in the Philippines follow the Salary Standardization Law in determining their pay, which has long been criticized for only providing bigger salaries to top government officials. The pay disparity, according to thinktank Ibon Foundation, includes a 186 to 223 percent increase for ranking government officials while the rank and file were only set to receive a 12 to 23 percent hike in the 2015 proposed SSL.
In March 2022, then-presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. vowed to provide “relief” and benefits for workers if companies are able to reopen and if jobs are created. However, prices of staples have since continued to soar, with the inflation rate at an all-time high of 7.7 percent, per government data last October.
“There is a fund for infrastructure projects but nothing for the workers. But these projects will not progress without the people. They should be able to find the balance,” Gacis said.
How much are government employees receiving?
In a media briefing, government workers highlighted how they could barely hold on to their monthly pay.
“Government employees receive P12,517 per month and local government unit employees receive less because of the Salary Standardization Law,” said Ferdinand Gaite, a long-time government employees union leader and former Bayan Muna lawmaker.
The Salary Standardization Law has long been a subject of criticism as it has been dubbed divisive, biased, and anti-poor as top officials usually get pay hikes in millions while the ordinary workers are left with pennies.
Among those receiving monthly pay under the SSL are teachers, health workers, and social workers who are working in the government bureaucracy.
“The Salary Standardization Law and the Compensations and Position Classification System are not enough to cover the necessities of government employees, that is why our demand is to increase the national minimum wage, ” said Gaite.
National minimum wage is needed
Instead of a salary grade, government workers renewed their calls for a national minimum wage, now pegged at P33,000, which is more or less the amount that a family of five living in the Philippine capital needs to be able to live decently.
“The salary grade is only one of many problems being faced by government employees. Up to this day, 700,000 out of 2.4 million government employees are still not regularized,” said Gaite.
Labor groups lamented that the amount will only cover their daily needs and will not allow them to keep some as savings, which they can use in case of emergencies, especially health-related ones.
According to Ibon Foundation, the daily minimum wage in the National Capital Region should be P1,133 in order to live decently. This is a far cry from the current P570 minimum wage.
“This is a human rights violation,” Mike Maga, Secretary General of the Philippine Independent Public Sector Employees Association (PIPSEA) said.
Manuel Baclagon, secretary general of the Confederation for Unity Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage), is among the government workers who have assailed the apparent inaction of Marcos Jr. to their daily struggle.
“We are calling the attention of Bong Bong Marcos Jr.’s administration on his stance saying that nothing can be done. Nothing will really happen if you don’t do anything,” said Baclagon.
Instead of heeding their calls, government employees unions said that the Philippine Congress is instead pushing for the “rightsizing” of the government bureaucracy, which could mean massive layoffs among their ranks.
Early into the pandemic, many government employees have been rationalized.
“The government should create more jobs. We are still not way past the pandemic. Due basic services must continue because the people are relying on it,” said Annie Geron, president of Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK).
As for Cristine Sadiwa of Kalakon DSWD, being a COS (Contract of Service) worker has been difficult as she emotionally shared her own experience during the beginning of the pandemic. The ‘No work, no pay’ system burdened poor families from the public sector.
“We are calling for a gratuity pay of ten thousand pesos, especially in this season of worsening inflation where the minimum wage is barely enough. It should be given before the holiday season when COS workers are continuously attending (to) their jobs,” Sadiwa said.
They also called for the junking of contractualization policies including Joint Circular No. 2 of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Commission on Audit (COA). JC No.2 is issued to prescribe the updated rules and regulations governing COS and job order (JO) workers in the government. Instead, the government should pass House Bill 204 into law which would pave the way for the regularization of thousands of contractual workers in government.
The progressive labor groups are united in calling for the government to heed the call of public sector workers for living wage, security of tenure, and union rights.