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Lives on hold

22 March, 2016Testimonies of textile and electronics workers show that precarious workers in the Cavite region in the Philippines are merely surviving and have a high risk of falling into poverty.

At the end of 2015, IndustriALL conducted a small study on the social impacts of precarious work in the Cavite Export Production Zone (EPZ) in the Philippines. 24 workers between 18 and 40, working at 17 different companies were interviewed, as well as union and community leaders. 16 workers were women and eight were men. Almost half of them were between 20 and 30 years old. Most of the workers were not from Cavite province.

Two third of the interviewees were working in garment industry and the rest in the electronics sector. All respondents were directly hired by the companies under short-term employment contracts; five had been agency-hired.

All of these workers were earning just enough to survive. They were paid the regional minimum wages; PHP 340(US$ 7) per day. Past studies have shown that this amount is far from being able to consider as a living wage.

Permanent workers have the same minimum wage, but receive benefits that precarious workers do not. Furthermore, during a company’s lean season, non-regular workers are the first to suffer. Workdays are reduced to three days a week or contracts are terminated. In addition, short-term contract workers will also have to pay every five months for documents required for employment.

Many of the workers interviewed reported that they send the larger portion of their wages to their families back home. What is left of their earnings barely cover their daily needs. Precarious workers and minimum wage earners take all the opportunities to earn extra with over-time work.

Precarious workers have to save on basic necessities. They usually live in very small, cramped boarding houses. Workers interviewed said that primarily they save on food. It is a common practice that workers will buy food, often already fried, that will keep and can be used for breakfast or lunch the following day. In general they only eat vegetables once a week. Some would hike from their home to work to save on transportation costs.

The young workers interviewed want to have a family of their own. But as it is already difficult enough to make ends meet being single they are delaying family projects. Female workers put off having more children. Women precarious workers from outside the Cavite region sometimes have to leave their children with their families in the province where they come from for long periods of time. If they get pregnant, they will sometimes have to quit as their contract will not be renewed.

For precarious workers from outside the region, it is impossible to save any money and borrowing on future earnings is a way of life. It is not uncommon for workers’ bankcards to be held someone they owe money to. Pawnshops, loan sharks, lending institutions are plentiful close to the EPZ.

Precarious workers often feel lonely and isolated. At their worksites, workers interviewed felt like second class citizen. They could not have paid sick leave or take holidays as regular workers have or do. In some cases they had to pay for their own uniform. They reported that they felt bullied by regular workers. They had to address regular co-workers as “Sir or Ma’am”.

Community leaders in the vicinity of the EPZ say the non-regular workers often consider themselves as outsiders. They would often think twice about leisure activities - they would rather stay in their residence or do over-time work.

With the support of an externally funded project against precarious work, IndustriALL affiliates in the Philippines are campaigning for a bill to limit precarious work.