Workers, urban poor skip meals and sleep longer to cope with crisis

Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR)
Rm. 702 Culmat Building 127 E. Rodriguez Sr. Avenue, Brgy. Mariana, Quezon City
Telefax: 632.4110256 email address:

Workers, urban poor skip meals and sleep longer to cope with crisis
by the CTUHR team

Rosa, 55, is a garment worker in Taytay, Rizal for almost ten years now. The company implements a quota basis which forces her to work for more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to reach the minimum quota. In total she receives around 2,000P (US$ 43.94) during pay day, which she will use to pay previous debts, house rent, water, and electricity bills. Because she only has 300P (US$ 6.59) left for food, she will have to reduce its quality and quantity, or borrow some money from illegal five-six operators.

Rosa’s plight is not rare anymore. The worsening economic crisis, as obviously shown in continuous rise in prices of commodities like fuel and rice, forces workers and urban population to develop ingenious means of subsistence and to tighten their belts further.

Of course, the Arroyo government may delight of the poor’s creativity. In fact, it is Malacanang advice to cope with surging prices while government is raking in billions of revenues from the very price hike that punishes the poor. Whilst the poor must be commended with how they continue to survive and refused to be robbed completely of their dignity, their plight should shame those who profit from their poverty.

The stories below are from direct interviews with workers from different factories and urban poor communities. Every account strikes similarities and echoes the same situation that every one of us was systematically placed into.

Skipping Meals

The soaring price of rice and other basic foods have resulted in reducing, if not the quality, the quantity of meals or food intake.

For example, Ruth, Rosa’s fellow garment worker, told us that her family is eating breakfast and lunch at the same time (also widely known as “brunch”) to avoid more expenses. Ruth is a casual worker and receives only 110P (US$ 2.42) daily wage, 177P (US$ 3.89) below the mandated minimum wage in Region 4.

Nanay Mildy, 60, an urban poor resident in Intramuros, Manila, has similar story. She told us that her family is now used to prolonging sleeps during daytime and wake-up past breakfast late in the morning.

These families, like most, are eating only 2 meals a day, not simply because they want to save money, but because they simply could not afford the standard three meals a day.

Teofilo Galalo, 55, is a regular worker in Reliance Farm Inc., a small scale piggery in Novaliches industrial belt. He has been working there for almost 27 years now. He receives 336P (US$ 7.38) daily wage. He allots 186P (US$ 4.09) for food everyday which will be shared by eight members of the family. This is far way below the 862P (US$ 18.94) daily food allowance needed for a family of six according to National Productivity Wage Commission (NPWC).

At the time of this writing, commercial rice in Metro Manila is around 35-40P (US$ .77-.88) per kilogram, while in other regions it has already reached 52P (US$ 1.14) per kilogram. Many had already shifted to either 25P (US$ .55) per kilogram NFA commercial rice, or to 18.50P (US$ .41) per kilogram NFA rice, for others who can withstand its soap-like taste. But even if their palettes refuse, the stark reality that they don’t have choice makes the soap-like NFA rice delectable.

Walk to work

The soaring prices of petroleum products also created significant coping techniques among the workers.

Renilyn Tubay, 19, works in Unity Packaging, a factory with 50 workers which produces boxes for medicines and skin applications. Women workers receive only 281P (US$ 6.17) everyday for eight hours of work, while men receive 331P (US$ 7.27). The discriminating disparity between salaries in effect means more burdens for Renilyn compared to male counterparts. Minimum wage in Metro Manila is pegged at 382P (US$ 8.39) per day.

As a result of insufficient salary, Renilyn started to walk everyday to save her travel expenses. She needs to wake up at 6am to reach workplace at 8am.

Celine Castillo, 32, is also suffering distress because of continuous oil price hikes. Though she doesn’t work, she had to do all the budgeting for the family and necessary adjustments.

Her husband works in Rebisco Company which produces Hanzel, Rebisco Crackers, Marie Choco Sandwich, etc. Out of 2,900 total workforces, only 1,900 are regular workers. According to Celine, she now shifted to charcoal or uling in cooking instead of the usual LPG tank. Two sacks of uling are enough for a month which costs up to 300P (US$ 6.59). She saves 350P (US$ 7.69) at most.

At the time of this writing, gasoline is at 61P (US$ 1.34) per liter, diesel at 54P (US$ 1.19) per liter, while a regular LPG tank is at 650P (US$ 14.28).

Dropping out

Education was deemed before by poor families as the best way to break the chains of poverty. However, in the present time crisis, schooling became very luxurious and unsustainable.

For example, Ruth, 32, also a garment worker in Taytay, Rizal, failed to enroll her eldest son, a second year college student in University of Rizal System (URS) Taytay campus. They were forced to spend enrollment budget for food. “Life was very hard… we need more income and so I want my children to look for work,” she said in Filipino.

Even the International Labor Organization (ILO) expressed its worries over the decline in the enrollment rate in schools from 96.77% in 2000-2001 to 83.22% in 2006-2007. (PDI, 19 June 2008). Decline in enrollment will logically increase child labor, a condition that ILO and the trade union movement wanted eliminated.


Economic crisis have gripped the workers too much. For workers, performing well inside a factory is not enough to sustain a decent, simple life. They have to exhaust all means to generate more income outside working hours.

Direct-selling seems to benefit a lot from wage pegging and consistent price hikes. Workers that we had interviewed told us that they sell Avon, Natasha, DXN, and other products to create more money to augment financial needs.

Jose Campilos, 20, works as taga-igib ng tubig in an urban poor community in Intramuros, Manila. His work does not have a regular salary. It depends upon the need for water in the neighborhood and how much they want to pay him. He acquires 50-100P (US$ 1.1-2.2) everyday. He also do laundry services sometimes, he receives 100-200P (US$ 2.2-4.4) per labada. But due to high prices, he also collects plastic bottles and tin cans by night.

Celine, aside from saving money by using uling, also sells embotido to her neighbors in the afternoon. While Ruth do laundry services during Sundays in exchange of money or food.

Doles and subsidy to the poor will not address the problem

Despite the worsening crisis that had succumbed workers in suffering and pain, Ms Gloria Arroyo has remained deaf if not living in hallucinations. Her posters bearing her picture beaming in Ramdam ang Kaunlaran (Progress is ubiquitous) continues to hang in major buildings, highways and bombard TV advertisements.

Another poster says `Labanan ang Kahirapan’ (Fight Poverty) fill the MRT stations. And the only thing that Arroyo government does is to hand doles and subsidy to poor consumers of electricity while benefiting from a windfall of revenues. The government collects P52 billion in revenues and expecting another P18 billion more due to weekly increase in fuel prices as a result of 12% VAT on fuel. The collection is needed, as Malacanang says, because it allots P2 billion in subsidy for the poor. Where the remaining goes, is a big question.

A big section of the population wants the VAT removed and the oil deregulation law that allows companies to increase oil prices anytime they want, scrapped. Arroyo government refuses stubbornly, the way it refuses the demand for a legislated 125P across-the board, nationwide wage increase (US$ 2.75). Instead, tried to deceive the people and create good public image by using temporary and artificial solutions.

The 2 billion peso, for example, allotted budget to give 500P (US$ 10.98) allowance to some 400,000 low electricity consumers is not just temporary but it encourages people to depend and expect that some more charity will come from the government. It reduces the poor to beg, depriving them of their dignity, while the government smiles handing crumbs and a pack of rice from the money it gets from the poor through VAT.

Few days ago, the government ordered a fare hike under the pretext of giving drivers, jeepney drivers particularly some relief from high cost of fuel. The poor, mostly workers are the jeepney passengers. Whilst it is understandable to uplift the drivers, the fare hike will come from the very pockets of the workers, who have been denied of the substantial wage increase. This government insulted the workers with 10-20P (US$ .22-.44) wage hike, an amount that is just enough to buy 2 packs of instant noodles, loaded with sodium and MSG.

The government won’t repeal 12% e-vat, legislate and implement 125P wage increase. It stands to benefit from them, unless, thousands of workers and the poor again fill the streets to demand not only the VAT repeal, but removal of the government which reduces its people into beggars. When that day happens, the poor will have more reasons to smile, even to laugh.#

The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) is an independent NGO based in Quezon city, Philippines, engaged in documentation & monitoring of human rights violations committed against workers. It conducts research, information and supports advocacy campaign for workers’ rights promotion and protection. For more information, call or fax:632.4110256
or visit

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