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Sugarcane Industry in the Philippines: Not so sweet


Over the weekend we went to the western part of Batangas to capacitate sugarcane workers and equip them of new skills so they can plan for other sources of income and set up livelihood when the sugarcane industry finally succumb to its natural death following the lifting of the sugar tariff by 2015 which as a consequence will create increased demand for lower priced imported sugar.

Their abject poverty is an eye opener to us and we would like to mainstream this invisible social challenge much more visible.

photo 4Take for example, a typical worker in the sugarcane industry in Batangas earns between Ps 50.00 – Ps 150.00 a day which is outrageously less than the statutory minimum wage. Not only that, some landowners exploit sugarcane workers by an unfair wage system called pakyaw or bulk wage payment. For example, groups of farmers or families are paid a flat rate regardless of the number of workers to work in some hectares in a sugarcane plantation. This pakyaw system enables each worker to earn P 45 a day!

Aside from low wage, sugarcane farmers have to deal with forced seasonal holiday when there is no work for four to six months. During this period, farm workers engage in grass weeding, coconut harvesting, construction work and other related farming works. The women augment income by doing laundry and domestic work. Others who couldn’t find similar work live on cash advances deducted from their wages so that when work resumes they have to work doubly hard to pay for their advances and pay for daily needs so others take out loans from friends and payday lenders or 5-6 loan schemes. Hence, during lean season, household indebtedness skyrocket to pay for food, education and other needs.

A typical family has 4 to 12 children. Although majority of the children are in school but in some big families, the young adult children stop schooling and work in the farm. It is also not a surprise that the bulk of child labor is in the sugarcane industry because children as young as 5 years old are forced to help especially if a family is contracted to work for “pakyawan” (bulk wage payment).

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SELF Matters help ABK Leap Project increase the capability of sugar cane workers and their families, expand their opportunities to increase skills and develop other income sources, help them access suitable financial products so they can build sustainable livelihood and improve their quality of life.