What independence? Workers, poor ask amid their woes

Jun. 12, 2014

DAVAO CITY – For Larry Argueles, a packing plant worker in his 40s, the country’s Independence Day on June 12 is hardly a cause for celebration.

For one, Argueles could not again send his two children, aged 22 and 19, to college because of his small take home pay.

“My salary is not enough to send them to college,” he said, saying that his monthly P8,000 salary, just a little above minimum wage, is spent on daily expenses on food, household needs and bills.

With college tuition and related expenses requiring him to shell out P20,000 a semester, even the option to have his children work to get their way to college would still, be not enough.

“They can only find work on contractual basis. So after six months, they are out of work and have to find another job,” he said.

Argueles finds Independence Day rites a farce if placed alongside theplight of workers and the poor.

“Government said unemployment is down, but there are more unemployed, and even the wages are low and prices of basic commodities keep on increasing. There’s an imbalance. I don’t see any benefit that could help us workers,” he said.

He has opted to join the Kilusang Mayo Uno rally here to voice his displeasure on government’s response to their woes.

Argueles’ thoughts are shared by a jeepney driver plying the north-bound route, who finds the Independence Day celebration depletes his daily income.

“When there’s a celebration, there would be no classes and no jobs, and we have no passengers and we have no income,” he told Davao Today, on condition that he would not be named.

The driver said that government has been promoting jobs abroad or attracting foreign investments instead of developing opportunities in the country.

“How I wish our country would be better so that we won’t be going to other countries to find work. But it’s the government that’s not been asserting itself.  They just comply with what their foreign bosses want,” he said.

Unemployment has been increasing, and with 39 million workforce in the country, statistics pegs the unemployment rate at its highest in 2013 at 12 million.

Kilusang Mayo Uno Mindanao spokesperson Joel Maglunsod said that one out of three workers is out of work, the other works abroad, and the third is working in conditions where he or she gets minimum wages and little benefits.

The independent economic think-tank Ibon Foundation said a wage increase “is urgent to reduce the gap between wages and cost of living”.

The group said workers in Metro Manila earn a minimum wage of P426 a day, described as insufficient to meet an estimated P1,034 daily expenses on food, shelter and transportation.

“This contrasts, with, for example, the amount spent by the richest 10% of families in NCR (National Capital Region) who average P18,041 per month just on food,” the group said.

A wage hike such as the P125-increase petition by KMU may substantially improve workers’ plight, IBON said.

“(R)aising wages is a concrete way to make growth in the country become more inclusive, with low-paid workers sharing in the fruits of economic growth rather than benefiting just a handful of rich families and big corporations, the group said.

But the Department of Labor-Region 11 announced that Davao Region’s minimum wage of P301 would be increased by P10 effective in November.

Maglunsod chides the labor department, however on what he said is a measly increase.

“If there is increase, it’s just limos (pittance),. Workers may be poor, but they do not want pittance. What we want is temporary relief for the workers. What is P301 now? But government is inutile. Agencies like DOLE are making our lives miserable,” he said.

Maglunsod also criticized President Benigno Aquino for allegedly shielding his allies from being dragged into the pork barrel, and from protecting his own “presidential pork” including the still unresolved Palace spending of the Disbursement Allocation Program.

“Those billions could have been spent wisely on social services such as building schools and rehabilitation of Yolanda victims,” he said.

KMU and other progressive groups held a nationally-coordinated rally that claimed the the Aquino administration had sold out sovereignty with the recent signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States government in exchange for economic aid. (davaotoday.com)

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