I’VE befriended some construction workers whose take-home pay every Saturday is so meager. I remember the words of the song Sixteen Tons.

“Sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.” These lyrics stuck in my mind.

Actually, the “company store” belongs to the wife of the foreman who runs the work of the construction.

She supplies merienda during morning and afternoon breaks. When Saturday comes, what the workers owe are deducted from their pay.

Every Saturday lunch, most construction work stops. Workers go home to give the remainder of their salaries to their families.

Those who have more money get ready to gamble at the local area where sabong (cock fighting) is held.

Some get lucky, while others lose. The ones who cannot afford to gamble go straight home. What about those who have to scrimp on travel fare if they have to go home to the South or North of Cebu?

They send their money through friends or agencies and remain at the construction site for the weekend.

Manual labor of course, they say, is better than no work at all.

I know of one teenager who stays at the construction site and who tries to entertain himself with music. He plays his music loud enough for us to hear him.

I see him washing his clothes, sitting outside the site at night just watching people go by. My curiosity got the better of me and I finally approached him and started a conversation.

He was single and was sending money home to his parents.

He was not that lonely because his co-workers would be back on Monday. He was just glad that he had a job. How many of our young men do back-breaking work in order to survive?

The boy I found out had six other younger brothers left at home. I suppose they too will come to the city to find work.

The foreman’s wife also has to augment their income. So how do we solve this problem?

Cheap labor always comes from the rural areas. These are the people who contribute their share to the survival of their families.

To me, they too are the unsung heroes. Hopefully we pray that these young boys can get the break they deserve. Our former driver of 18 years used to be a young manual laborer during the construction of Kamuning House.

My husband saw his potential and offered him a job with us. That was his lucky break.

I hope others too may get as lucky as he was or find jobs other than manual labor.