THINK TALK: On the Planned Teachers’ Pay Hike

MATALAM, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 26 July) – A lot have already been said and written about the plan to raise the salaries of teachers, but until now, this is more of lip-service and rhetoric than a reality.

Just recently, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education and Ways and Means, raised (again) the issue of the teacher being underpaid and overworked. This was confirmed by a survey commissioned by the good Senator.

We agree on this but there should be a better justification, otherwise, other professions will lay claim for the same entitlement and for exactly the same reason. In reality, the nurses are more overworked than the teachers. While teachers enjoy their holidays, weekends, and long summer vacations, the nurses do not. At present, the entry salaries of teachers, nurses, and policemen are the same after the basic salaries of teachers and policemen were raised during the past administration to equal that of other professions.

One may opine that teachers are required to serve during elections while nurses do not. True, but they are compensated for such extra work. When you are compensated for extra work that is not overworked per se. The principle of the salary standardization law is “equal pay for equal work.”

In Indonesia, for example, the entry pay for teachers is equivalent to P66,099 compared to the P25,439 entry level pay for Filipino teachers. Of course, at face value that discrepancy is quite a lot. But when you make a comparison between two countries or more, you should factor in the element of the so-called “purchasing power”.

When I was in Korea sometime in 2017, I asked for the price per kilo of rice even as I had no intention of buying rice save for the curiosity of knowing the cost. I was shocked to know that it was 379 Korean Won (P150) per kilo. That time a well-milled and good quality rice in our country was P36 per kilo. If you compare the absolute values without considering “purchasing power”, that price difference was super duper big! Yet, at P150 per kilo of rice in South Korea, nobody was complaining and it was because their income could afford them to buy rice at that price. This is what we call “purchasing power”.

Please do not get me wrong. I have no objection about increasing the salaries of teachers and other professions for that matter. My point is: if only the teaching profession should be given such incentive it will create a domino effect or open the floodgates for other professions to follow suit aside from the fact that it will trigger inflation.

The other issue would be the funding requirement.

Assuming that, to be fair for all, Congress agrees to increase the salaries of government workers and peg the entry salary at P66,099 to get even with Indonesia. We are talking about increasing the basic salary of government workers by about P30,000. Multiply this with 2.2 million government workers and you get P66 billion in one month or P792 billion every year. This is about 20% of the national budget.

I don’t think the national government is in a position right now to shell out this much amount of money at a time that there is an urgent need to lower the debt-to-GDP ratio as an after effect of massive government borrowings to cushion the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. The President (PBBM), in his first SONA was very emphatic in saying that first and foremost in his administration’s agenda is to expedite economic recovery through sound fiscal management, among others.

The other point, as I had already mentioned, is it will create a domino effect.

High salaries for government workers will encourage the private business companies to increase prices of their products so that they can offer, more or less, the same benefit to their workers. If all other commodities increase by leaps and bounds, we are creating a ripe scenario for high inflation rate.

First, let us understand inflation rate and how does it affect the economy. Inflation is the rate of increase in prices over a given period of time. The inflation rate thus becomes the broad measure for cost of living in a given country. It follows that, when the cost of living in a country, as for example the USA, Canada, UK, and some European countries is high, the income of people is also relatively high. Inflation rate cannot increase in a manner that will deprive the people to afford the cost of living.

Thinking from out of this world, the topic of increasing the salaries of teachers is always an interesting one, especially if it translates into a political agenda. As usual, politicians who push this idea will always have some kind of political advantage. And why teachers over nurses is quite understandable. Teachers deliver more votes than nurses for two reasons: they are more in numbers and they man the voting precincts during elections.

We hope this is not the (only) motivation of the good senator.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Maugan P. Mosaid holds a doctorate degree in rural development. He is a freelance writer, planning consultant, and teaches Statistics and Methods of Research in the graduate school. He can be contacted at mauganmosaid6@gmail.com.)