After Paltry Wage Increase, State Workers to Campaign for More

MANILA — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has signed into law an amendment of the existing Salary Standardization Law covering wages of government workers, thus approving new standard rates for both civilian and military personnel in the Philippines.

Nominally, the government has released P18.4 billion ($379.8 million) to implement the salary increase of 1.145 million government employees, including the police and military. It will be charged to the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund of 2009 budget.

The approved increase in wages of state workers is an “initial victory” for the campaign for wage hike that the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Avancement of Government Employees (Courage) has been advancing for the past 10 years, said Ferdinand Gaite, the group’s chairman.

But, Gaite pointed, these increases are really small to the point of being insignificant as the new amendment, called SSL3, will give these in staggered amounts for four years.

For public school teachers, for instance, the P6,500 increment, spread out in four years, “translate to a measly P1,625 ($33) monthly increase per year — substantially less than our demand for a P9,000 ($186) hike over the next three years,” said Antonio Tinio, national chairman of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).

Teachers, about half a million of them nationwide, comprise the largest percentage of the government’s civilian workforce. While saying that they are not begrudging military and personnel their pay increases, Tinio said teachers resented that the Arroyo administration gave more focus on upgrading the pay of uniformed personnel while neglecting the civilian bureaucracy.

Based on a matrix provided by the SSL3, a candidate soldier will receive a P8,630 ($178) while a Salary Grade 1, Step 8 employee will get only P7,895 ($163).

Public-sector employees, public-school teachers and health workers have formed an alliance, called All Government Employees’ Unity (All GE Unity), to push for the P3,000 wage hike. The group insisted the wage increases must be disbursed for a maximum of two years; otherwise, the annual installments will be insignificant given the inflation rate.

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) maintains that the current salary standardization scheme actually violates, or outrightly repeals, the Republic Act 7305 or Magna Carta for Public Health Workers.

This law is the fruit of the public health sector’s years of struggles for decent wages, but is still being denied them, the AHW said in a statement.

Courage also criticized the seeming bias of the approved SSL3 against workers in local government units (LGUs).

EO 811, which amending SSL, gave the local legislative assemblies the power to determine the salary rates for LGU personnel, based on LGU income class and financial capability.

“It’s wage regionalization in the public sector,” Santi Dasmariñas, secretary-general of Courage, said. “The increase shall not be implemented equally but shall be based on the LGUs’ income and financial capability as first- to sixth-class cities and municipalities. In many cases, employees of the local governments have yet to receive the salary differentials from 10 percent adjustment last year and even the benefits mandated by law. Employees of second, third, fourth etc., class municipalities are unjustly being treated as second- and third-class workers. Their pay is much lower and often delayed compared to their counterparts in first-class municipalities and national government,” Dasmariñas said.

Dasmariñas also pointed out that SSL3 has another loophole in requiring a review and integration of benefits gained from collective negotiations agreement and magna cartas for social workers, scientists, health workers, teachers and other laws.

And then, after all is said and done, the local government workers will have to wait for Jan. 1, 2010, to enjoy the initial benefits under EO 811, according to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. (