#Tiempo Muerto | Sugar workers still endure pakyaw, slave-like wage rates


Protesting farmworkers tear up their payslips in front of the DOLE Regional Office in Bacolod City

BACOLOD CITY – “Tiempo Muerto” protests here in the country’s sugar bowl entered its second day today, as affected farmworkers trooped to concerned government institutions to hold picket-dialogues with local officials.

Tiempo Muerto (dead season) or the annual off-milling season in the sugar industry spells extreme hunger and bitter suffering for the thousands of affected farm workers and their dependents in Negros Island. During this lull between planting and harvest, workers are left without any source of income.

Yesterday, farmworkers led by the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in Negros were joined by Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) Secretary General Danilo Ramos in protests in Bacolod City. NFSW member unions and associations in Escalante City, 63 kilometers north of Bacolod, also held protest marches and camp-outs to demand government aid.

Ramos said that farm workers have been suffering under slave-like conditions since the establishment of the hacienda system. “Sugar farmworkers endure perennial hunger and poverty year-in, year-out since the Spanish colonial period. But conditions are far worse during tiempo muerto.”

UMA said that hunger during off-milling season is also felt in other major sugar-producing areas such as Bukidnon, Isabela, Tarlac, Pampanga, Batangas; and Leyte and Panay islands. Minimum wage rates prescribed by regional wage boards are blatantly violated by hacienderos and aryendadors who perpetuate the oppressive “pakyaw” or piece-rate scheme.

Government statistics show that 30.5% of families in Region VI where Negros Occidental used to belong live in poverty, while in Negros Oriental, the figure is 46.6% of families. In Bukidnon province, the largest  sugar cane producing area next to Negros Island, 58.7% of families live in poverty.

“Wages can be as low as Php 13 a day in Isabela, while Php 200 a day is the highest average daily wage rate in all other areas. But we should remember that the hacienda system is also wrought with feudal patronage and usury. The encargados, or supervisors even frown upon workers who can take home more than a hundred pesos in cash for their weekly toil – it is still very common for workers to use up all their wages through debts in the hacienda’s management or ‘cooperative’ store even before they actually receive the money,” said Ramos.

“During tiempo muerto, wages can go as low as Php 500 for 15 days work, that is if the hacienda can even provide work for the dumaan (regular hacienda workers). How about the sakada (seasonal migratory workers)? How does government expect them to survive under these circumstances?”

Sugar workers demand that the provincial government’s Php 40 M calamity funds, and the multi-million Social Amelioration Fund (SAF) handled by DOLE, be utilized to provide immediate relief to affected sugar workers.

Aside from immediate aid, UMA also called on the Duterte administration to heed the farmworkers’ demand for genuine land reform and national industrialization. “Tiempo Muerto will continue to be a season of hunger and death for sugar workers every year, if the country’s fundamental land problem is not seriously addressed,” ended Ramos.


Protests are also ongoing in Escalante City in Northern Negros.



Agriworkers support fight for a National Minimum Wage


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

Backbreaking work under scorching heat – not demand – makes sugar farming “2nd hottest job” in PH

sugarcane man


Secretary General
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.