Text By: Buena Bernal || Photos By: Faye Sales
CAVITE, Philippines – Jessel Autida, 41, has 6 children to feed and look after.
A minimum wage earner in a factory south of Manila, he spends 8 hours sewing in-fashion clothes sold by established American apparel brands at prices his daily pay couldn’t afford.
He is paid P315 ($6.9*) a day at the garments factory.
But Jessel couldn’t just rely on a single job given his family’s expenses.
“Sa baon pa lang [ng mga bata], kulang na ‘yung P300 sa isang araw (Just for the allowance [of the kids], P300 will not suffice in a day),” he said in an interview.
After work hours when his co-workers already arrive in small rental spaces near the Cavite Economic Zone, Jessel proceeds to a community-based tailor shop.
In the evening, he sews for the local shop on a piece-rate basis. The income is sparse, dependent on the number of tailor-made clothes clients place.
Unionists believe workers like Jessel deserve better: a living wage enough to move out of poverty.
Jessel smiles when asked of any “libangan” or sources of entertainment in the workplace. He and other workers interviewed from the same garments factory said there are none, but they are striving for more decent work conditions by forming a union.
In the Philippines, labor union density is dwindling.
Latest state figures show newly registered unions are at their lowest since 1976, with only 126 new unions registered in 2013.
This, despite freedom of association which includes union formation being one of the cornerstones of promoting decent work.
Collective bargaining through genuine unions allows members of the working class to utilize their power as a united entity to receive their due share from the profit they had helped generate through their labor.
Fairer wages are strongly linked to higher levels of freedom of association, according to the International Labor Organization.
Filipino laborers live from one pay cut to the next.
They live lives where choices are few, dreams are limited, and the future – well, that’s too far ahead. Focus on how to pay for the next meal, they tell themselves repeatedly.
But Jesse says the union has given him and workers like him hope for a better life.
If not for them, for their children at least.