On International Labor Day, agricultural workers under the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) reiterated support for the clamor for a national minimum wage, set at P750 a day for workers in the private sector and P16,000 a month for government employees.
At the same time, UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that the group is also calling for an end to contractualization and other neoliberal attacks against workers and the peasants. The oppressive practice of labor-only contracting among agricultural workers who are usually paid by result is especially rampant in large-scale agricultural plantations and haciendas.
“Presidentiables and big-time politicians should not wait for poll victory before they implement this. The hacienderos among them – like the braggart Mar Roxas – may instantly end contractualization in firms and sugar estates bearing their surnames if they so wish,” said Ramos.
Ramos said that while the country’s presidentiables have all vowed to end contratualization, concrete legislation co-authored by Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap and Rep. Neri Colmenares are still pending in Congress. House Bill 5140 or An Act Prohibiting Contractualization And Promoting Regular Employment was filed by Anakpawis in as early as October 2014.
The seasonal nature of work in plantations and haciendas has become an excuse for big agricorporations and landlords to make contractual hiring the norm. Workers are usually paid by various schemes including the oppressive “pakyaw” or wholesale/piece rate scheme which is declared legal by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Government standards have always set wages of agricultural workers at the lowest, slave-like levels, despite obscenely huge amount of net profits that landlords and foreign and local capitalists amass from plantations and haciendas.
“Throughout our history, the sweat and blood of agricultural workers in vast haciendas have always been the wellspring of economic and political power of the landed elite who also wield state power – like the Cojuangco Aquinos, Floirendos, Lorenzos, Aranetas, Arroyos, and Roxases,” according to UMA.
DOLE regional wage boards have set wage rates of agricultural workers from P233 to P335 a day. In reality, however, they usually receive only P200 daily wage, while in parts of Isabela some sugar workers still reportedly earn a measly P11. There is also discrimination against women workers who are paid lower wages than men. Child labor prevalent in haciendas and plantations is the result of desperation to augment family income. These slave-like levels are sorely lacking compared to the family living wage of P1,088.00 for an average Filipino household per day, according to a study by IBON Foundation.
The campaign for a national minimum wage should inspire agricultural workers to advance local campaigns for wage increase, based on particular conditions in specific haciendas, plantations, towns, districts and other basic levels.
“This can only be realized if agricultural workers unite and get organized. Agricultural workers must form militant unions to fight for their rights to just wages, job security, and benefits and to further the struggle for genuine land reform and national industrialization.”
Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA Media Officer, 09166114181