Hard Work, Hard Life

BY CHANTAL ECO
May 21, 2010

Blogger and student leader, Chantal Eco, shares with us the plight of dockyard workers in Leyte, Philippines, who survive with what little they have.

 

A few weeks ago, staff from CTUHR (Center for Trade Union Human Rights) and KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno) visited Tacloban, Leyte to get video footage of the situation of workers in the region. I had a chance to join them and we followed a dockworker living in an urban poor community for a day.

We talked to the worker’s wife who was naglalara (weaving leaves). She used coconut leaves, which will be made into pusô (rice dumpling). Pusô is rice cooked inside a woven pouch made from young coconut leaves. It is commonly seen at barbecue stands here in Leyte. The women are paid a measly sum of 10 pesos (about 22 US cents) for every 100 pouches they make for the pusô.

 

Pusô makers prepare their rice treats at home.

Pusô makers prepare their rice treats at home.

Photo credit: Chantal Eco

 

Although I haven’t actually experienced the work of a dockworker, commonly called hornal in the local dialect, I’ve witnessed the extreme conditions they work in, for meagre pay.

Although I haven’t actually experienced the work of a dockworker, commonly called hornal in the local dialect, I’ve witnessed the extreme conditions they work in, for meagre pay.

At Tacloban Port, a hornal for a cement company receives a minimum wage of PhP 238 (about US$5.25) a day if his gang (a group of 10 to 16 hornal) reaches its quota of 3,120 sacks per day. For a gang of 10 members, every worker needs to carry 312 sacks per day, each weighing about 50 kg.

The employer may be implementing the minimum wage requirement in the region but the dockworkers can only get work for at least two weeks a month. This depends largely on the number of cargo ships that arrive at the port. “No work, no pay” is what they often say. In a month, they only earn PhP 3,000, or about US$66, which is barely enough to survive and feed their families.

A dockworker’s life here is always at peril. Without hard hats and facemasks to protect them from the hazardous working environment, they unload sack after sack of cement for up to 10 hours a day. Battling heat, rain and exploitation, these workers are forced to stay in the job regardless of the harsh economic conditions they experience.

 

Without any protective gear, dockyard workers are more susceptible to respiratory diseases brought about by cement dust.

Without any protective gear, dockyard workers are more susceptible to respiratory diseases brought about by cement dust.

Photo credit: Chantal Eco

 

The law requires an automatic deduction from each worker’s pay for social security deposits. However, we found records proving that most employers failed to pay the monthly sum regularly.

For the workers, the hardest time would be when there isn’t any cargo ship docked at the pier. The workers would then need to look for alternative sources of income such as working as porters in the warehouses in the city. They would also offer their services in rice and sugar plantations, catch fish or dive for shells in the bay just to sustain their family’s daily needs. Summer is a much harder time for these poor workers as the wives would have less work to do since school is out, with work hard to come by.

Because of their meagre income, they only eat once or twice a day, usually with only dried fish as viand. Rice alone is very expensive.

I’ve seen and felt these people’s hard work to bring in a small amount of money every day, but it has never been enough to give them a decent life. With no money to spare for other daily necessities such as clothing and a proper house, they are left to wallow in this cyclical kind of poverty for years.

 

Chantal Eco also blogs at Chantal’s Doodles