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CLARK FREEPORT, Philippines – Michael Sotto has maxed out union provident funds to pay his hospital bills and other medical expenses since January 2023 when a foot wound was infected.
The 45-year-old employee of the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) has spent a quarter of a century painting road markings in the free port zone.
But the Association of Concerned CDC Employees (ACCESS) union member told Rappler on March 31 that instead of upward mobility, his economic situation took a beating in 2023.
The Building Facilities and Maintenance Division worker used to collect a take-home pay of P9,500 every 15 days.
This, he said, has tapered off to P2,500 after loan deductions.
“I need medicines, my family needs food. What I earn is not enough. Before the loans, I could take home P9,500 every payday,” Sotto said.
He was forced to take loans because CDC workers have been stripped of their health insurance – a provision of an existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
“Binawasan pa kami ng sweldo, tinanggal ang benefits, allowance, paano kami nito?” Sotto bewailed his plight. (They slash our salaries, they take away our benefits, our allowances. What will happen to us?)
The ailing worker has reached the maximum allowed in their provident fund.
Now he scrounges for sideline work or appeals to friends and kin to help with expenses for gauze, betadine, metformin, and even insulin.
New compensation scheme
Cases like that of Sotto prompted an outcry among CDC rank-and-file employees.
They are appealing for the return of their health insurance and other benefits as their monthly salaries go down.
The new Compensation and Position Classification System (CPCS) approved by the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GCG) has affected around 465 rank-and-file and 162 project-based employees.
The changes took effect on January 15.
But it’s not just rank-and-file workers who are affected.
CDC communications manager Eric Jimenez needs to undergo an open heart bypass surgery.
Jimenez, who is also editor of the Angeles Observer, suffered a heart attack on April 2 while he was preparing to be discharged from the hospital after a knee injury.
The Pampanga Press Club (PPC) is trying to raise the P1-million needed for his procedure as Jimenez, who is also a dialysis patient, no longer has health coverage.
‘Lift the escrow’
Labor Department Undersecretary Bienvenido Laguesma assumed jurisdiction of the labor dispute on January 16 after a strike by workers.
He ordered CDC to put in escrow in favor of the employees the difference in monetary values between the GCG-approved rates and those in their CBA.
In a media briefing on March 31, ACCESS members urged the government to lift the escrow.
They also called for the restoration of their allowances, benefits, and incentives.
“All we want is the return of what was ours,” said ACCESS chair Randy Gomez. “We don’t know how long this will drag on. Shall we just tell each other, try not to get sick?”
Gomez said the labor department had not called any conference since it assumed jurisdiction of the dispute.
Workers have also not received details of the escrow cited in the AJ notice, he added.
The union wants the status quo while the labor department decides on the case.
Gomez warned the government not to ignore an issue that is “literally a matter of life and death for workers.”
Rank-and-file workers have little savings to cushion them, he pointed out.
“We know how expensive lab tests are, hospital treatments. Then our mandatory retirement fund is also pending. So those who want to retire have also put plans on hold,” he added.
“CDC respects the legal process under the Office of the DOLE Secretary. The DOLE Secretary assumed jurisdiction to prevent a strike from damaging Clark’s reputation as a premier investment destination,” Bonficaio Tareno, CDC head of human resources said in a statement on Tuesday, April 4.
“The strikes, as well as the general assemblies and marches during lunch break, create an alarming impression that a strike has already been declared against CDC. It is important for CDC to take the necessary action to avoid deterring potential investors from investing in Clark,” he added.
The CDC “is maintaining transparency with ACCES by updating them on the status of our actions,” Tareno claimed.
CDC president and CEO Agnes Devanadera in January said management would exhaust all efforts and legal means to address the concerns of the employees on salary and benefits.
Devanadera told workers that management is “not the enemy” and appealed for patience and understanding.
On February 17, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin through the Office of the President received a tripartite letter to “demonstrate the urgency of resolving the issue of the status quo ante as an interim measure and the approval of the ABIs excluded in the CPCS compensation package.” – Rappler.com