TODAY we are obliged to pause our focus on the growing political carnival in the country to address a frankly appalling idea proposed in next year’s General Appropriations Act.
In budget hearings in the House of Representatives last Friday, legislators turned their attention to a provision in the budget for state universities and colleges (SUCs) that authorizes the schools to use the voluntary services of their students in the “construction or repair of buildings and the fabrication or repair of buildings and the fabrication or repair of equipment subject to the payment of P25 per hour but not to exceed four hours a day.”
The proposal further states that students can be employed in academic research, extension, or administrative tasks, and that participating in any of the abovementioned activities will be counted toward the students’ practicum and training subjects.
There is nothing wrong with offering students convenient part-time employment on campus; many of us have had the experience, and several of our colleagues who studied in the US tell us that the practice is widespread and considered normal there, often being used as a part of the student’s financial aid package.
The proposal in the GAA, however, is completely unacceptable for two reasons. First, work is work, and in this country, employment is governed by laws that specify minimum rates of pay. Those mandated minimum wages vary from region to region and depending on the type of work being done, but in no case are they as low as P25 per hour. For reference, the lowest possible pay for a job at an SUC anywhere in the country, according to the Department of Labor and Employment as of September 10, is P240 per day, or P30 per hour based on an eight-hour shift.
There is no reason why jobs given to students should be considered exempt from prevailing laws. After all, since the jobs are “voluntary,” if no student “volunteers” the alternative for the school is to hire someone from outside – who must, by law, be paid at least minimum wage. It is the basest insult to suggest that student labor, particularly for tasks like academic research or administration, is worth less than that of an ordinary worker.
The second unacceptable condition in the budget proposal is the conflation of regular labor with the students’ practical training. In some cases, work done on behalf of SUCs would certainly be relevant to the students’ education, but the provision as written completely overlooks the fact that the main point of a practicum is education, not labor. Stipulating that any campus work – even menial jobs like painting or cleaning gutters – can be considered a “practicum” devalues the students’ education and opens the “voluntary work” idea to all sorts of potential abuse.
For six consecutive budgets under the administration of President BS Aquino 3rd, the students and families of the country’s state universities and colleges have been progressively squeezed by declining budgets, ever-increasing tuitions and fees, and hopelessly inefficient bureaucratic processes. This latest proposal is simply another slap in the face to the Philippines’ persecuted academic population.
We demand, in behalf of the people, and ask our readers to join us in making this demand, that the proposal be removed from the GAA at once.