by DANILO RAMOS
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)
Why exactly is Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz glad that the Bureau of Local Employment’s (BLE) latest data shows that to be a “sugarcane man” is now in demand in the country, next only to landing a job as a call center agent?
To say that “sugarcane farming is the 2nd hottest job” in the country is only accurate if one is describing backbreaking work cutting and hauling tons of sugarcane under the sweltering heat of the sun. One cannot even think of any “hotter” job, especially now that farmers are suffering due to the El Nino dry spell.
Baldoz’s statement that the “unexpected demand for sugarcane farmers and grinders can be credited to the stable sugar prices in the global market” is pure hogwash. According to their own data, the so-called “job openings” are attributed to only one sugar-producing area, held by the High Yield Sugar Farms in Matalam, North Cotabato. The term “sugarcane farmer” is even a euphemism for the lowly tapasero and sakada who continue to endure slave-like working conditions and slave-like wages in sugarcane haciendas and plantations since the Spanish colonial period.
Is Sec. Baldoz even aware that sugar workers only have work during planting and milling season? In between these periods or during off-milling, they do not earn anything from “sugarcane farming” and that is why farm workers call this period tiempo muerto or dead season. Due to this seasonal character, aggravated by the oppressive pakyaw or piecework scheme and rampant contractualization in the mills, sugar workers only have employment from 6 to 9 months.
The “job openings” in North Cotabato can be expectedly taken by experienced sugar workers from other areas such as Negros, who regularly risk life and limb to migrate to other sugar-producing areas as far as Tarlac, Batangas, Isabela and Mindanao just to seek employment during tiempo muerto.
Now that tiempo muerto is fast-approaching, the only jobs remaining are mainly for milling, and harvesting through cutting and hauling cane. While farmworkers do not even have daily duties in the fields, cutting and hauling takes more than eight (8) hours of work in a day. With the pakyaw scheme, workers strain themselves to complete their quotas, usually truckloads of cane for a group of farmworkers handled by a kapatas or kabo, feudal lead men who are still as alive and kicking under Daang Matuwid as the caciques and hacienderos of old.
Baldoz, who is probably serious when she reportedly said that DOLE will closely monitor job applications and referrals for sugar farming made online through their portal Phil-job.net, might as well dangle these “attractive wage rates” to the millions of unemployed youth browsing the internet for a “lucrative career” as sakada:
In Negros Occidental, 95% of the workers are paid the pakyaw rate. They are only paid from P500 – P1,000 every 15 days or only P1,000 – P2,000 in a month. According to DOLE, the pakyaw rate is legal even if the Regional Wage Board in Negros has pegged the minimum wage for plantation and agricultural workers at P245 and P235 daily respectively.
The situation in Batangas is almost the same where the pakyaw rate is widespread and most workers are contractual. The pakyaw rate is P1,500 for every 15 days. There is also a wage system based on the tonnage one can cut in a day. For a migratory worker or sakada, the rate is P120 – 180 per ton while the locals get P180 – 200.
In Bukidnon province in Mindanao, the usual wage is P150 a day even if the mandated minimum wage in the region is P274 a day. In North Cotabato, where the actual job openings supposedly exist, the minimum agricultural wage is P252, while “all workers paid by result, including those who are paid on piecework, takay, pakyaw or task basis, shall be entitled to receive not less than the prescribed minimum wage rates per eight (8) hours work a day, or a proportion thereof for working less than eight (8) hours.”
The sugar business is only sweet for sugar barons and landlords while those who toil with their sweat and blood live in extreme poverty.