Budget Watch

[ANALYSIS] Improving waste worker welfare through budget reforms in local government

Leonardo Jaminola III

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[ANALYSIS] Improving waste worker welfare through budget reforms in local government

Alyssa Arizabal/Rappler

'Waste workers usually experience musculoskeletal issues, fractures, ocular trauma, skin diseases, and gastrointestinal disorders'

In the Philippines, several policies and programs have been enacted to address the issue of solid waste management. Chief among them is Republic Act. No. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management (ESWM) Act. The law lays out the foundation and framework for solid waste management by defining institutional mechanisms, setting guidelines for solid waste management, and promoting national research and development, among others. The ESWM Act tackled the issue of solid waste management by focusing on the decentralization of the solid waste management system, emphasizing waste reduction and minimization through sustainable practices  like recycling and composting, and providing opportunities for public participation. In implementing solid waste management systems, one of the most common issues is the protection of waste workers’ rights and welfare.  

Waste workers are the driving force behind any solid waste management system. They foster public health by collecting and processing especially hazardous waste which can have negative effects on human health. Waste workers also significantly contribute to environmental protection by promoting resource circulation and recovery, decreasing the demand for extracting new materials and extending the lives of landfills. The role of waste workers in the solid waste management system is set to further grow in importance due to increasing waste generation in the country.

According to the National Solid Waste Management Commission, the Philippines  generated around 21.4 million tons of waste in 2020. This figure is expected to grow in the next years, reaching 23.6 million in 2025. With this, waste generated is expected to increase by around 10% over six years. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the country’s waste problem due to the high demand for medical equipment like face masks. In 2021, the Department of  Environment and Natural Resources estimated that the country produces approximately 280 metric tons of medical waste every day.

However, while important in waste management, waste workers are usually underpaid and overworked. They also usually face various challenges like exposure to hazards and discrimination, among others. Direct handling of waste exposes workers to biological, physical, and chemical hazards which can result in serious occupational injuries. Waste workers usually experience musculoskeletal issues, fractures, ocular trauma, skin diseases, and gastrointestinal disorders. Meanwhile, workers in incinerator plants are exposed to various toxic substances like heavy metals, dioxins, and furans, among others. Examining the mortality and morbidity of people residing near incinerators, one study found evidence linking the concentration of heavy metals and cancer mortality in women. There was also evidence relating incinerators to an increase in soft-tissue sarcoma mortality.

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In the Philippines, waste workers are prone to experiencing insect bites, eye irritation, light wounds, cuts, rashes, and sprains. These injuries are usually the result of the lack and improper use of personal protection equipment. Aside from this, workers also suffer from fatigue and body pain, especially in the shoulder, lower back, and hips. Exacerbating the condition of workers, this heavy workload is usually not accompanied by decent pay. Jobs related to waste management are usually considered low-skilled and low-paying. This is especially true for workers engaged in collecting, transporting, sorting, and composting waste. In the Philippines, paid workers engaged in waste collection received P221,283 in annual compensation while those in materials recovery received a lower average annual compensation of P170,385 as of 2017. These figures are lower than the P284,297 average annual compensation for all  establishments.

As Republic Act. No. 9003 has decentralized the implementation of solid waste management systems, this means that local government units (LGUs) also directly manage waste workers in their respective localities. LGUs can implement several policy and budget reforms to increase the welfare of waste workers.  

1. Expedite hiring of additional waste workers 

In cases where the number of waste workers is insufficient to cater to the current needs of the area, the hiring of additional waste workers must be expedited. Lack of manpower can lead to inefficient and irregular collection and segregation of waste in the designated facilities. Residents are affected due to waste piling up which can lead to the spread of diseases and contamination. Meanwhile, for the waste workers, this can create a more dangerous working environment if waste starts accumulating in the facilities like landfills. In some cases, garbage collection and segregation are the activities that most need  additional support.

2. Regularization of waste workers 

The regularization of waste workers is essential to ensure job security and increase their compensation. Having job security will insulate waste workers from changes in administration and local politics. Aside from increasing the basic pay, regularization will also entitle waste workers to government-mandated benefits and bonuses. Waste workers  can be transitioned to an Administrative Aide I position with a salary grade of 1.  

3. Provision of hazard pay 

Due to the nature of their job, waste workers are constantly exposed to physical, chemical, and biological hazards. Hence, they should be entitled to hazard pay. According to the  Department of Health (DOH) government workers categorized as high-risk are entitled to a hazard pay of P9,000 per month. Those classified as moderate risk will be given  P6,000, while low-risk workers are entitled to P3,000 per month. Waste workers can be categorized as low-risk workers.  

4. Life insurance 

In some cases, the insurance afforded to waste workers is too small given the occupational risks and hazards they face. As such, it is recommended to provide waste workers with adequate life insurance that can support them in cases of accidents and injuries.  

5. Establishing community gardens 

In well-maintained materials recovery facilities and landfills, gardens are usually set up to make use of compost and serve as a food supply or additional income for waste workers. Vegetables grown in the garden can be used by waste workers and their families or sold to augment their income. 

6. Safety training and provision of protective equipment 

There needs to be an annual training discussing the importance of using protective equipment while handling waste to mainstream its use. Experienced waste workers can even be tapped to lead this safety training. The training must be coupled with easy access to protective equipment including masks and gloves and proper uniforms to lessen the prevalence of injuries. – Rappler.com

Leo Jaminola works with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives Asia Pacific. They received their undergraduate degree in Political Science and master’s degree in Demography from the University of the Philippines Diliman. 

This article draws on a research paper conducted as part of the Young Budget Leaders Program. The program is organized by the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy, People’s Budget Coalition, and WeSolve Foundation.

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