Wages and Livelihood Struggles of Filipino Agricultural Workers

Prepared By Roy B. Morilla of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) for the Agricultural Workers Meeting, May 20-22, 2005, Penang, Malaysia
Friday, 20 May, 2005 - 06:19

Philippine agriculture has been the main indicator of the Filipino society, describing it quite as a whole. At the countrysides, the level of technological production remains backward and the relations are predominantly feudal between the big landlords and comprador bourgeoisie and the landless peasants.

In general, the relationship of landless peasants and big landlords are indicated by tenancy, as the former paying land rent to the latter. However, this is brought about by the political and economic influence enjoyed by the landlords. Land rent vary from areas to areas, ranging from the sharing system such as 50-50, 60-40 or 70-30. (part of tenant, part of the landlord)

In addition, the agricultural character of the Filipino society is best described by the composition of its population. The majority 75% of the population belongs to the peasant class, where, about 75-80% of this is considered to be small or poor farmers. This sub-class of poor farmers are considered to own a very small parcel of land or no land at all.

Moreover, those who own little land, source the 1 to 50% of their total income from selling their labor-power or being a farmworker. However, there are lower poor farmers who do not own any land and labor-power was the only source of their livelihood. They source about 50 to 100% of their income from mere selling of labor-power of being a farmworker.

The farmworkers are often seen at the barrios (peasant villages), working at others' farms, doing such as planting, harvesting, weeding, sprinkling, hauling and others. From their row, come the agricultural workers who work primarily on haciendas and plantations of sugar, fruits and other commercial crops.

Struggle for wage and livelihood as part of the peasants' anti-feudal struggle

The wages of the farmworkers are actually a major part of the anti-feudal struggle or campaigns of the peasants who are usually members of the local chapters of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP). This usually comes second from the primary component of attaining genuine land reform that is the systematic and gradual reduction of land rent.

These campaigns are usually timed during planting or harvesting seasons of crops such as rice. This is due to create a leverage against the landlord in case a farm strike is planned as a mass action. Also, this is considered to be a season for economic activity where peasants are geared into struggling and upholding their fundamental interests.

Though, KMP was only established during the 1980s, it was as early as early 1970s that peasant organizations began to flourish. Faced with gruesome problem of landlessness, peasants who were tapped by the cadres of the people's movement from the urban centers, were highly aroused, organized and mobilized for the struggle of genuine land reform in the countryside.

The peasant anti-feudal campaigns are usually composed of:


    • Reduction of land rent
    • Increase of wages
    • Reduction of usury
    • Increase of prices of agricultural produce
    • Abolition of other forms of semi- feudal exploitation
    • Political campaigns
    • Economic or livelihood campaigns


As stated above, the struggle for wages is deeply integrated with the wholistic anti-feudal campaigns advanced by the peasants.

Also, wages are not limited in the form of money. During the establishments of barrio-level peasant organizations, these were usually in a form of sharing system. A basic example was during the late 1970s, where a farm worker would get 1/10 of the husked rice or palay he or she has harvested.

Since then, series of anti-feudal campaigns were pushed by the organized peasants that systematically improved their economic well-being.

A case study : An experience of cluster of peasant villages at the province of Northern Samar

The province of Northern Samar is located at the Eastern Visayas region of the country. Its major crops are primarily rice, coconut and abaca. Briefly, rice serves as their staple crop, while coconut and abaca serve as their commercial crop.

During the off-season of rice, they source their income from harvesting coconut and abaca to be sold at the town centers.

It was during the late 1970s, when peasant organizations begun to spread out. The peasant organization went through stages of organizations such as organizing groups, the organizing committee and then the full-fledged mass organization.

A. Reduction of land rent.

During the establishment of the peasant organizations (late 1970s), land rent was about 50%, which then became a major part of the anti-feudal campaign. A series of mass actions aiming to reduce this land rent was executed by the peasant organizations.


Period Land Rent
Late 1970s 50
Early 1980s 40
1985 - 1990 30
1992 20
1997 - present 10


This series of campaigns to reduce land rent was actually led by the peasant organizations. Naturally, initial efforts did not go well, but with the ever-growing strength and mass membership of the organizations, the landlord was compelled to give in the peasant demands. However, these negotiations were without the mediation of local government agencies but direct engagements with the landlord. It was only every after successful campaigns that local government units such as the Barangay (or barrio) Council would enact resolutions composed of the terms of the organization so as to build a legal shield against probable repression by government forces.

This was periodically assessed by the leadership of the organization considering if it is already an ample time to struggle for the next level of land reduction.

B. Increase in wages.

Accompanying the systematic and successful campaigns to reduce land rent, were the struggle to increase wages.

Actually, wage for planting rice is based on a certain size of farmlot and not of the time length of work. Particularly, the barrios do not use the measurement "hectare," instead they use something called "piso," which was derived since the Spanish time. However, the equivalent is 1.25 piso for every 1 hectare. This is then composed of a smaller measurement called "sukol." Wage is primarily based on every sukol a farmworker have planted rice on.

Originally, wage for every sukol planted was about P10, without meal. Then incorporated within the series of anti-feudal campaigns increases in wages were effected.


Period Wage Per
Late 1970s 10
Early 1980s 20
1985 - 1990 30
1992 40
1997 - present 50


It is studied that a typical farm worker could complete planting on a 2 to 3 sukol, which would earn him about P100 to P150 (about $1.81 to $2.72 at present).

In addition, during harvesting, a sharing system was implemented. During the late 1970s, the wage level was about 1/10. It simply means that a harvesting farm worker would get 1 part for every 10 parts he or she has harvested. This was also included in the series of anti-feudal campaigns.


Period Wage
Late 1970s 1/10
Early 1980s 1/8
1985 - 1990 1/6
1992 1/5
1997 - present 1/4


The wage level 1/4 is actually significantly high, because a typical farmer could take home more or less 1/4 cavan in a day's work of harvesting rice. In addition, a family of farm workers could get as many as 10 cavans during the harvest season, considering they do not own any land.

On the contrary, wage levels on coconut and abaca were not as considered as of cultivating rice. Since then there was only one significant development in the sharing system in coconut and abaca farming. Beforehand, it was 1/3 - 2/3, or 1/3 of the harvest for the farm worker and 2/3 for the landowner. It was only increased to 2/3 - 1/3, or actually reversed. At present, they are planning to decrease the part of the landowner to only 1/4 of the total harvest.

C. Economic or livelihood campaigns

The first major economic campaign that the peasant organization implemented was the expansion of planting rice and the cultivation of other food and commercial crops on idle lands. Previously, the plains were not fully cultivated with rice, some parts were planted with cassava and other root crops. Moreover, the hills were not planted with coconut and abaca and the peasants were only able to harvest wild abaca.

With the organisation, peasants were encouraged to cultivate the plains with rice, then the hills with coconut and abaca, with other root crops in between.

Consequently, these gave them an abundant source of staple food which is rice and a source of cash income which are coconut and abaca. Some rootcrops are traded within the barrios.

Moreover, the organizations were able to set-up a cooperative stores during the 1980s. These bought bulk commodities from the town centers to be sold with little increase in price, in order to cover operational costs and save funds.

In some barrios where there was no cooperative store established, they were able to boycott a retailer with high prices that caused him bankruptcy. Consequently, the competing retailer became a consistent ally of the peasant organization.

Also, the peasant organization was able to acquire farm animals through the help of NGOs. Some barrios were able to acquire as many as 10 carabaos to be used in land preparation. Because of the particularity of the area, where they do not use plow, but the land tilled only by the footwork of the carabaos, it serves as a significant means of production. Then, peasant members were able to borrow these carabaos for negligible costs.

But the greatest example of the economic program of the peasant organizations lies within the implementation of the communal farms. Because some parts of the lands covered by this cluster of barrios were confiscated by the revolutionary movement during the early 1980s from a despotic landlord, these were distributed among barrios that served as the peasants communal farms.

They were able to execute a work-point system within the cultivation of these communal farms. Beforehand, they implemented it based on workdays, but when they have noticed that some farmworkers would start late in the morning but would earn as much as those earlier, they have modified it to workhours. The peasant members themselves did their own scheduling by teams, did their own recording and computation of the workpoints and the distribution of the harvests. These were implemented at planting and harvesting stage.

Campaigns for wage increase by hacienda and plantation workers

Side by side with the anti-feudal campaigns of peasants were the campaigns for wage increases advanced by hacienda and plantation workers.

Before any campaigns for wage increases are implemented, careful studies and research are done by the agricultural workers organizations. Primarily, this would focus on determining the levels of consciousness of the agricultural workers that would be a major indicator of their readiness to advance the campaign. Another consideration is the formulation of the rationale that is to be adopted during the series of education and propaganda work. Through sustained mass work, or the arousal, organizing and mobilizing of the agricultural workers, the campaign is pushed through.

An example is the campaign for wage increase being advanced by the National Federation of Sugar Workers in Negros. While an increase is obviously justified, the peak of the campaign was scheduled during the off-milling season of sugar farming. Thus, they have called the campaign "Tiempos Muertos" or dead season for sugar farming.


Campaigne Name : Tiempos Muertos
Period : April to August, from 2001-2002 to present
Immediate Call : 20/20 Or increase of P20 ($0.36) in daily wage and 20% in pakyaw (piecemeal basis)


Components :
In 2002 - 2003, 10,000 sugar workers were mobilized.
Series of mass actions in different forms, targetting local government unit and landlords.

In 2003 - 2004, 8,000 sugar workers were mobilized.
Series of mass actions, with different dates with the prior forms, planned but spontaneous-like. Executed at sugar haciendas with or without government land reform program implementation.



    • An increase of P5 ($0.09) and 5% increase in pakyaw rate was accomplished.
    • Farmlot components of 5 to 17 hectares of 55 to 145 hectare hacienda to be cultivated with rice, corn, vegetables for agricultural workers consumption and utilization.


This was set from April to August because there is also a national campaign for wage increase, which is "P125 Across the Board, Nationwide" is set to be pushed through by the agricultural workers during the October peasant campaign. Because in October, there is the anniversary of Presidential Declaration 27, the sham land reform program of Marcos, and the World Food (less) Day. Moreover, mass actions are targeted at the labor and land reform departments and local government units.

Actually, there are local campaigns of peasants and agricultural workers from different parts of the country. There are consistent struggles for wage increase in Tarlac, Batangas, Bukidnon, South Cotabato, Davao and other hacienda and plantation areas in the country. Those with unions engaged through the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the landlord-capitalist. In Bukidnon, where the pakyaw rate for a cane tonnage used to be P50 ($0.90) were increased to P80 ($1.45).

In general, calls for wage increases could only be accomplished with a united, consolidated and organized agricultural workers.

The struggle for genuine land reform is struggle for just wages

In the Philippines, it is quite visible that the call for just wages of agricultural workers is adjoined with the call for genuine land reform. The landlords and comprador-bourgeoisie were only able to determine and pin down wages because of their actual monopoly control of the lands. This control also worsened the mere characteristics of wage.

As a semi-feudal society, wage is far away from a correspondance of the value of labor-power exerted by the agricultural workers. Essentially, its level is primarily determined by the struggle of two forces, the political and economic power of the landlords and comprador-bourgeoisie on one side, and the people's movement, particularly by the peasants and agricultural workers on the other. Thus, to create a positive effect on the wage is to strengthen the people's movement. This is historically have been corroborated by the countless experiences of the masses from different areas of the country.

However, it should not be constrained that land reform should be first achieved to have just wages. Wages are more tactical and immediate that deserve to be considered promptly.

It is entirely clear that to engage the issue of wage of agricultural workers is to struggle for genuine land reform. Nevertheless, land reform may vary in realization based on the objective conditions. Land reform with agricultural workers need not be identical with of the peasants. Land reform through individual distribution may probably uplift the economic status of peasants and a perspective of aggregating these lands is a subsequent task.While, land reform on haciendas and plantations, such as communalization of the land or the agricultural workers socially owning it, would retain and advance its level of productivity. Thus, land reform with agricultural workers is practically a step ahead. Conversely, this form of land reform is actually a headstart for nationalist industrialization. Hence, wages, and reform and nationalist industrialization are fundamentally related.