Slave like wages of sugar field workers push them out of the industry to seek higher paying jobs. This is what Department of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol and especially Negros Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., who is also a haciendero (landlord) failed to mention why there is a shortage of sugar field workers.
This is best exemplified by the viral post of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) on social media which shows the pay slip of a dumaan or hacienda sugar worker in Silay City, Negros Occidental, who had only a net pay of P200 per 15 days or P13.33 (US$0.26) daily wage.
Another is the net income of 11 sacadas or internal migrant sugar workers from Mindanao who were hired by the Cojuangco-Aquino-Lorenzo sugar barons to work in Hacienda Luisita and other parts of Central Luzon whose payroll shows during Nov. 21-27, 2016 that they only had a net pay of P38.26 or P5.47 (US$0.11) a day.
It must be also remembered that the sugar field workers of Hacienda Luisita joined the strike of the mill workers of Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) in November 2004, because they were only paid back then at P9.50 (US$0.18) a day.
The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in Region 3 has not yet issued a ruling on the case filed by the sacadas since December last year even after the hearings on this case had already been concluded.
According to John Milton (Butch) Lozande, secretary general of NFSW, slave like wages of sugar field workers is common, because majority of them are paid the pakyaw (task/piece) rate which has been institutionalized by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). In Region VI alone, where majority of Philippine sugar is produced, 95% of the sugar workers are paid the pakyaw rate. Essentially this is contractualization.
That is why the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) according to Mr. Lozande is campaigning for a P50 increase in the daily wage and 50% increase in the pakyaw rate in Negros Island and similar wage hike campaigns in the whole country to get rid of their slave like wages and against contractualization.
Ka Butch also stated that NFSW is also campaigning for a genuine agrarian reform program as majority of the sugar lands distributed to agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in Negros Occidental is under lease (aryendo) to financiers and hacienderos.
The Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) evaluation of land reform in Hacienda Luisita estimated that 83% of the lands there are under lease.
NFSW is thus embarking on land cultivation areas (LCA) or “bungkalan” in Negros, Hacienda Luisita and other areas to ensure that the ARBs have control of their lands and if they choose so, to cultivate other crops like rice and vegetables.
The government must also provide assistance to all ARBs and small farmers in the country through subsidies for farm inputs and the like and not only through mechanization as what Sec, Piñol and Gov. Marañon are proposing.
Mechanization will not solve the sugar industry. Higher wages, ending labor contractualization, genuine agrarian reform, and government subsidy will.