PH gov’t is biggest violator of workers’ rights

By: Joel Ruiz Butuyan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | February 15,2021 - 08:00 AM

The government is so high-strung and unforgiving in commanding private employers to pay their employees minimum salaries and other benefits made mandatory by law. The Philippine government, however, is a huge hypocrite, because it’s the biggest abuser of workers’ rights.

Private employers are required to pay mandatory minimum wage, which is currently set at P537 per day in Metro Manila and at relatively lower rates in other regions. They are also obliged to pay higher wages for overtime work, night shift differential, and holiday pay. Private employers are likewise compelled to recognize their employees as permanent staff if they work for more than six months.

Public employees do not enjoy these same privileges, because the government has declared itself exempt from labor standards. This is the result of a Labor Code that was created by way of a presidential decree (PD No. 442) during the Marcos regime, and whose rationale has not been revisited ever since. So this has been a problem that has festered from the Marcos regime to the present.

As a result, tens of thousands (maybe even hundreds of thousands) of government employees are receiving outrageously low monthly salaries. Half of the workforce of many of our provincial and municipal local governments are perpetually treated as temporary employees, receiving salaries of P6,000 per month or even lower.

The most abused are barangay workers who receive as low as P1,000 to P2,000 per month. These include barangay tanod, health workers, and day care workers. Barangay health workers are the most pitiful of all, because they are overburdened with multiple delegated tasks such as health monitoring work for the Department of Health, census and other local governance work for the Department of the Interior and Local Government as well as for the provincial and municipal governments, social work in behalf of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, etc. These abused personnel doing public functions are scandalously not considered government employees but classified as “job order” employees or private contractors. However, if the standard test applied to private employers is used, they certainly perform essential work, qualifying them as permanent employees if they were in the private sector.

On top of receiving lowly pay, these exploited personnel can be terminated at the whim of their superiors even if they’ve been working for 20 years. It may be true that a lot of them are political appointees who are hired by whoever is in power, but it is equally true that they perform jobs that are indispensable to the functioning of government, regardless of who is in power.

These miserable salaries should be juxtaposed against the sizable benefits given to selected government officials who receive monthly pensions equal to their monthly salaries when they retire. In other words, they continue receiving monthly salaries even if they’re no longer working. These privileged public officials include retired officials of the Commission on Audit, Commission on Elections, Civil Service Commission, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Human Rights, Bangko Sentral, the judiciary, armed forces, police, among others. Many of them also have survivorship rights, enabling their heirs to receive the monthly pensions in case of the retired official’s death.

The offered excuse of the government for exempting itself from labor standards is its supposed lack of money. But where do our leaders get the nerve to give this excuse when we have congressmen and senators who each have P1 billion or more in pork barrel funds? Where do they get the gumption to utter this excuse when billions in “intelligence funds” are plowed into a deep hole of unaccountability? If these pork barrel and oversized intelligence funds are properly allocated to local government units, the latter will have the funds to give their employees living wages.

We have a government that says “our country has no money” when it faces lowly employees receiving wages below the poverty line. But when it faces a privileged class of public officials, it says “Help yourselves,” directing them to our country’s public coffers.

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