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Sweat, Blood and the Sun

by Erwin dela Rosa

construction

I often find myself asking why I get a higher salary than those who do manual labor under the scorching sun in difficult circumstances. This question has bothered me since I started working almost a decade ago.

Why does a chief executive officer or a manager receive a higher pay than the laborer or farmer or construction worker? They sign documents, make decisions, sip coffee in an air conditioned room with all the amenities, while the common person labors and toils under the seemingly unbearable working environment.

The answer that comes to mind is responsibility. The CEO or manager is responsible for the entire unit or organization thus deserves the higher pay. His or her head is figuratively under the axe if something goes wrong with the organization or operation. Therefore, he or she deserves higher if not the highest pay.

I find this rationale acceptable and valid. However, when I look at the working conditions of farmers, laborers, construction workers and sweat shop workers I cannot help but question the discrepancy between the manager and the laborer.

This thought returned to me when I last traveled to Candon City, Ilocos Sur for a Board of the Laity Meeting. It is a year before the election. There are various road constructions – a favorite among politicians. Traveling to Ilocos is taking longer than usual.

It was about 10:00 o’clock in the morning when I got stuck in traffic somewhere in Ilocos. We were made to take a detour because of bridge construction. We have to travel on one side of the bridge, onto the river bed. This caused a traffic jam.

While inside the air-conditioned vehicle, I could see from the window construction workers sweating, busy with construction work. They were piling stone after stone, strengthening the approach to the bridge. They were men both young and old sweating, carrying rocks and stone, mixing cement and concrete, lifting sacks of cement and concreting the road. The blue plastic jug containing their drinking water doesn’t stop dripping as man after man drinks a glass or two. That was how hot it was. It was sweltering.

I viewed the entire activity for fifteen minutes. I saw real manual labor in action in its peculiar condition – under direct scorching sun. It was during this observation that the long time debate in my mind was reawakened. What makes me different from these really hard-working men that I should get higher pay?

I find it ironic that just as education is a great equalizer it is also a great separator. While education opens up employment opportunities in a knowledge-based economy, it alienates those who did not attain formal education. It puts those who did not avail of a formal education in a economic and social disadvantage.

There are many reasons why some people fail to acquire formal education or any vocational education. To those who persevered there are many dividends. The personal and economic development of those who did or were not able to invest in education is affected. It’s like the story of the servant who invested and was given more, and the servant who did not was further denied.

What seems unjust is that the less fortunate, those who are unable to attain formal schooling for higher industries, profession and service, those who use raw energy are not given the compensation due them. This, I believe, is inhumane considering the work conditions they have.

While we value education so as to properly compensate those who have invested in it, let us not forget the compensation due our farmers to whom we owe our food supply; to laborers and construction workers to whom we owe the completion of our ideas into concrete structures and from whose sweat we obtain the fuel that keeps the engines of economy running.

If we could provide them with pay commensurate to their sweat, blood, and punishing work environment then perhaps we could be taking a great equalizing step. After all, being educated is about being aware of the realities around us and working towards just solutions.

image credit: JanneM from Flickr

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