Call For Equity: The True Essence of Labor Day

By Hans Noble

To unsuspecting eyes, the presence of restless street vendors in their strategic spots seems like an imperative scene to understand the current labor situation in the country. Though small businesses fuel the national economy, celebrating Labor Day when most of its operators cannot even afford to enjoy its essence as a legal holiday reveals a concerning situation.

This concern also transcends to white-collar jobs in the country. Health workers, for example, are condemned of professional conscience, should they simultaneously take a holiday or  compromise the ill and weak. Regardless of the collar’s color,  the majority of the workforce are in the rat wheel as the daily wage defines much of what would lie ahead.

To paint the bigger picture, celebrating Labor Day becomes a  mockery disguised as badges of honor to those controlled victims of the unequitable labor system.

In the Philippines, the average monthly occupational wage is P18, 423 according to the 2022 survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). This undermines 193 monitored occupations in 72 selected industries. Surprisingly, there has been a noticeable increment from the previous years (an 11.7 percent increase from 2020). Although an uptrend is worth the marvel, this is utterly reinforced by how the average monthly wage of socially “high-end” professions such as aircraft and software development overshadows the rate for relatively small earners including elementary occupations, such as mining and quarrying, and service activities in organizational memberships. 

A particular head-turner in this economic upset is how the slightest increase in the wage of monthly wagers beyond P40,000 cannot be viewed as a soothing factor when applied to minimum wagers. This is where the contrast between equity and equality looms large. For instance, elementary and secondary teachers undergo a daily routine consisting of instruction proper, clerical work, and other miscellaneous activities. It is a common means to mold the youth into future doctors, pilots, and engineers among the rest – professions that would go beyond the frontiers in terms of revenue.

The issue of occupational independence also afflicts small businesses in the flanks of social hierarchy (food stalls, barber shops, private repair shops, and others). Although freedom in service schedules is grasped, they would have no practical option but to dismiss most of the day-offs, to make more than enough money. This is raw reality knocking on the door, and yet a sharp divide would only bisect the tie between these entities and the larger industries that supply their materials. In terms of food processing, agricultural sectors are usually left entrenched in low commodity prices, thereby kicking off a series of price hikes sipping far into food vendors and other related establishments.

The disbelief of many towards income distribution stems from labored work periods while performing some of the most fundamental human services, only to be repaid with minimum salaries. It does not come as a surprise how overseas jobs have steadily devoured the national consensus towards work options, mirrored by 2.2 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) according to the 2019 Survey on Overseas Filipinos Report by PSA. Hence, through fear of not being able to properly provide their families with basic necessities, Filipinos offer their skills to foreign work that, in return, makes the understaffing of most local business sectors.

Pondering on the term “labor” makes its value seem underappreciated across different occupational clusters. May it be a professional conscience or the restless drive to feed a family, workers spend most of their lives in a cycle of no return. This concept has become an apprehension that guided elites to create a work-pay system. And in times of pressing situations where work intensity becomes malleable under unfavorable fixed compensations, the workforce is left with no choice but to gauge upon the situation. Nevertheless, it poses the idea to not soften the utmost significance of every occupation, either big or small.

In the end, Labor Day in the country should not only be celebrated to recognize the economic contributions of workers; it must also give broad emphasis on the deep-seated inequalities of its workforce and how to possibly address it from street vendors to professionals. Despite nominal wage increases, the gap between high and low earners persists, further fueling exploitation. From here on, our government must see the value of prioritizing equitable treatment and opportunities for all, honoring the value of every job. While it is a celebration, Labor Day should envelope fairness in our labor system.