WHAT THE ’60K STARTING SALARY’ DEBATE TAUGHT US ALL: KNOW YOUR VALUE, PRIVILEGE, AND THAT OUR WORKERS DESERVE MORE
Just in time for last weekend's Labor Day commemoration, a tweet went viral on Friday of an employer sharing his shock at a fresh graduate declining a P37,000 starting pay offer. The Tweet opened a whole discussion on Filipino workers' salaries that is oftentimes seen as taboo.
“Money talk” in conservative cultures like the Philippines is often frowned upon, or completely avoided, because of the sensitive implications it has about social standing, financial stability, and the like. Because of society treating it as such, our collective ignorance on how much we should be earning in our respective careers is trickled down to fresh graduates who have no reference to consider when negotiating their first paycheck. This is often seen as an obstacle, with some employers potentially taking advantage of this blindness to offer less-than-ideal compensation packages for fresh graduates.
But, a story that went viral over the weekend proved to shine a light on the complete opposite situation, while also opening up a more honest discussion about the issue at large.
I just made a job offer to an Ateneo fresh grad, and I was shocked that she declined a 37k starting salary. The role is for an entry level Marketing Associate. I asked for her reason and she said that she expects at least 60k because of her educational background. I’M SPEECHLESS.
— Kume (@DearKume) April 29, 2021
The tweet showed the shocked reaction of an employer, after a fresh graduate from one of the most prestigious Philippine universities, Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), declined a P37,000 starting package, because they apparently expected P60,000 for the Marketing Associate role.
37K for an entry-level position is often unheard of in most professional fields, and is generally perceived as a higher-than-average rate for most Filipinos. But then again, since this hasn’t really been openly discussed in public before, no one really knew if it really is as high as we all think it is.
Nonetheless, the tweet went viral over the weekend with many netizens sharing their personal and professional input to join the discussion. Three points that came out a lot from all the opinions shared were these: know your value when negotiating your starting pay, recognize your privilege in being able to say NO, and always remember that Filipinos in general are being paid so much less than we should be, considering inflation rates and high living costs (especially in Manila).
Know your value
Many people commended the fresh graduate for sticking to her standards, and what she knows she deserves with her specific skillset. Although most of us could only dream of getting such a high offer for our first job, the situation still opened up a real pain point in salary negotiations, especially among fresh graduates and young professionals. That is, the difficulty of asking for a higher rate when it’s your first job (and even when it’s your second or third), and our tendency to accept lower offers than what we originally expected because we’re too shy or scared to negotiate for more.
Know your privilege
The different reactions to the rates disclosed on the original tweet showed just how much living circumstances play on one’s ability to negotiate or decline an offer. For the fresh grad, 37K might be less than what she expects, but many people also commented that this is a rate that most Filipinos would do everything to have. Regardless of the offer, a lot of people just accept whatever amount they can because of the monthly bills and necessities they have to pay for. Not everyone has the luxury to decline an offer, no matter how “low” it is.
Know that we all deserve so much more
Average wages across the Philippines are generally much lower than the living cost it takes to lead a comfortable life. This is a big factor as to why so many people still see themselves below the poverty line, and why young professionals generally opt to live with their families instead of getting their own places. With rent, bills, groceries, and other necessities to think about, the minimum wage of P433 a day in NCR alone is heartbreakingly small.
I have a master’s degree and my responsibility sometimes covers an entire country but I have less than 37K salary.
— Ariel Rojas #registertoVOTE (@johnarielrojas) April 29, 2021
While I agree that 37K is NOT a livable wage, sobrang laki pa rin niya compared to what I'm earning now and it's making me anxious na ito yung baseline amount sa conversation 🙁
— Angelo (@gleenonseagal) April 29, 2021
I’ve been wondering what nerve was hit with the 37k issue. Then I realized it’s because people were forced to look at their own wages and realize how much they were underpaid and undervalued. And either you justify what you were paid or realize you now have to fight the system.
— Anna (@AskDocAnna) April 30, 2021
Studies have shown that it costs at least around 50k for an individual to live decently in Manila. Tbh, entry level wages should be closer to 60k than 37k. Sadly, it's not even 20k for most people even if a lot of these companies can afford to pay living wages https://t.co/Am1AKga6yM
— Anton Tioseco (@atioseco) April 29, 2021
One of the biggest talking points to come out of this whole issue is the fact that Filipinos are underpaid and undervalued as workers. Corporate jobs might offer greater financial stability when you climb the ladder, but even there, entry-level jobs are not paid as high as they ought to be. And what about everyone else who isn’t working corporate jobs? What about healthcare workers, teachers, farmers, fishermen, artists, service workers, and everybody else outside the industries with the big bucks? That’s usually where the rest of us reside, trying to survive from paycheck to paycheck while living costs get higher and higher throughout the years.
While the issue on salary negotiations is an ever-present challenge we have to face throughout our careers, this particular incident was a good opening to kickstart a culture of openly discussing what we’re due as a working class. Because the truth is, Filipinos deserve a raise in wages all across the board. At the very least, we must strive towards a future where we all have a livable wage, regardless if we’re working a corporate job or not.
The discussion around this tweet might not be enough, but it’s definitely a precious start to unlearn and unhinge a culture of shame and judgment when it comes to the dreaded “money talk.”