Sugar workers turning to construction work for better pay — SRA
The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) is trying to find ways to keep the sugar industry alive as more and more farmers shift to working in other industries with better pay.
In an interview with SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, he said the agency had to make adjustments on its production outlook this year as reports from different provinces showed the country’s sugar producers are gradually leaving the sector.
“Almost all our milling districts right now are affected with the infrastructure project, especially the cane cutters. If you are a cane cutter, you will opt to work in the ‘Build, Build, Build’ since the salary is bigger,” he said.
The ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure program is one of the main programs of the Duterte administration, where a total of 75 flagship projects worth a combined total of $36 billion in investments are to be put up in various parts of the country.
Just recently, the government said it is in need of 100,000 construction workers for the project who can work in the construction of the Metro Manila subway, a flood control system, and bridges in the provinces of Negros Oriental, Leyte, Cebu, and Bohol among others.
Board member Roland Beltran said the going rate for industrial and construction workers are higher against what they earn as farm workers.
“Although there are additional benefits and bonuses given through the sugarcane amelioration program, it’s not enough to compete with industry standards,” he said.
Data from the regional office of the Department of Labor and Industry showed the minimum wage for a plantation worker is currently at P281.50 (for more than 10 workers) and P266.50 (for 10 workers and below) per day, respectively, while the minimum wage for a construction worker is at P323.50 (for more than 10 workers) and P271.50 (for 10 workers and below) per day, respectively.
Sugar farmers from Batangas, Tarlac, Pampanga, Negros Occidental, and Bukidnon are said to be taking advantage of this new opportunity to earn more.
Worse for the sugar industry, this trend is coupled with the effects of the La Niña phenomenon which slows down the growth and the harvest of the sugar canes, especially in the areas of Mindanao.
La Niña is expected to persist in the country until March.
“We really hope that we’ll be able to recover. But in Mindanao, aside from the reduction of the areas planted with sugar, it’s really bad. We’re making a special trip there in March to really find out what’s happening,” said Serafica.
Knowing that this may eventually cripple the industry, the administrator said SRA has been veering to farm mechanization to ensure the steady supply of sugar in the country.
For 2018, it has allocated its entire P1 billion budget from the Sugarcane Industry Development Act or SIDA to build more block farms and infrastructure for its stakeholders.
The budget, which was originally P2 billion, was cut in half this year after problems of underspending caught up with the agency.
It is also planning to start a one-week farm mechanization expo in Bacolod next month – a first in the history of SRA – to attract more investors to sell their equipment and facilities in the country.
Domestic production of raw sugar is expected to reach 2.27 million tons this crop year from last crop year’s record high of 2.5 million tons – the highest in 34 years. /muf
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