Church pushes dignified living wage for Filipino workers

Church pushes dignified living wage for Filipino workers
SunStar File

JAN Raquiza, 37, works as a utility worker in Palo town in Leyte for 11 years.

Despite his backbreaking job of over 10 hours a day for five days a week, his daily salary can only reach P403, which, according to him, is not enough to support his family.

“I have three children to feed. My salary can barely sustain our needs every day,” said Raquiza, who works as overall cleaner, repair and maintenance, and errand personnel at a local school in the town.

Since Raquiza is a casual employee, he does not have a regular permanent tenure.

“I am not even a member of the Social Security System (SSS) yet,” Raquiza said in an interview on February 16, 2024.

The SSS is a government-managed social insurance program for workers in the private, professional, and informal sectors in the Philippines.

Raquiza said he has yet to find extra money to pay for his pension fund, even with the minimal amount of P500.

“I hope our salary can go higher, or at least P500. The prices of goods are already increasing, and our daily wage can’t compete anymore with our daily expenses,” added Elmer Nadera, 37, who worked as a security guard for a year now in Palo.

A kilo of rice, the daily staple in the country, reached as high as P67.

Aside from the daily expenses for the motorcycle gasoline so he can travel from his home to his work, Nadera is also worried about the milk and diaper needs of his one-month-old baby.

To live well, it is said that a Filipino family needs about P25,000 per month salary, according to Caritas Philippines, the social and development arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Philippines (CBCP).

“But our minimum wage is only P14,000 now,” said Jing Rey Henderson, head of the communications and partnership development of Caritas Philippines.

Since the start of 2024, the Caritas Philippines, along with the Living Wage Foundation UK, the country’s National Federation of Labor (NFL), and other faith-based groups, has intensified its discussion on the need for a living wage for Filipino workers.

“As a social action network and in the church, justice is important, aside from love, peace, life, and dignity of the human person. It is important to discuss living wage in the Church, especially since the Church is involved in charity and social action, the heart of the Catholic Church,” said Father Tony Labiao Jr., executive director of Caritas Philippines.

“The living condition of a person must be good, thus the salary must be sufficient to provide the condition for a dignified life or dignified way of living. I hope this is a good start for us to provide an environment where we can go deeper into the topic of a living wage,” added Labiao during the roundtable discussion entitled “A Fair Day’s Pay for a Fair Day’s Work’ on February 2.

Citing the increasing number of poor people in the country, Labiao said that many Filipinos “are deprived of a dignified way of life.”

In the third quarter of 2023 alone, a survey from Social Weather Stations (SWS) estimated that almost half of Filipino families, or some 13.2 million families, considered themselves living in poverty.

Henderson maintained that achieving a living wage among Filipino workers “provides quality and balance in work and life.”

NFL Vice President Elijah San Fernando also acknowledged the church’s role in advancing the living wage issue in the country.

“For many of us, the church serves as a moral guide, and the living wage is a moral issue. God is about justice. This gives justice to the working people. And the church has a big contribution to promoting this living wage issue,” said San Fernando.

“The labor issue in the country is broad and quite sad, ranging from employment, unions, and wages. It is timely that we should talk about it now,” added San Fernando.

In a report from Catholic news site UCA News, he questioned that despite the increase in the country’s gross domestic product or income and labor productivity, the condition of the living wage has not also changed.

“Our Constitution enshrined that workers are entitled to tenure, working conditions, and living wage,” said San Fernando during the online forum.

‘Multi-sectoral approach to living wage’

San Fernando suggested a multi-sectoral approach to implementing a living wage in the country.

“We can do it in pilot areas where business is ready, the support is ready, and strong participation of civil society, and the church,” the labor leader said.

While San Fernando was not able to offer a general definition of a living wage, he maintained that a living wage is connected to the situation in every country in the world on common factors like housing, clothing, water, transport, food, and other essentials, cost of living, and education.

While he said that there are “positive developments” being worked out by the country’s lawmakers, he urged the public to remain vigilant over the said issue.

“We are always heartbroken, but we continue to engage with our lawmakers,” said San Fernando.

“We need the help of everyone, to hold our public official to account. These are the issues that matter to us, particularly wages. We should talk about it, and it should be concrete and legislated,” he added.

Aside from the private sector, employees in the government are also hoping for another round of salary increase this year.

Ariel Gacang, a 45-year-old public school teacher in Leyte who is earning around P30,000 per month, said that they also need attention regarding their living wage.

As this developed, progressive lawmakers filed a bill in the House of Representatives on February 13, seeking to double the entry-level salary of public school teachers nationwide, to the amount of P50,000 month.

“These measly increases are quickly eaten away by inflation and excise taxes, especially those brought by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law… The disparity between the salary and the family living wage continues to widen, as inflation steadily rises without corresponding timely increases in salaries,” said the Makabayan-bloc lawmakers during the filing of their bill.

“With the soaring prices of goods, our salary is no longer hat enough,” said Gacang, who is also worried about the college education of his two children. (Ronald O. Reyes/SunStar Philippines)

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