Driven to the Limit: The unpaid overtime woes of jeepney drivers amid rising fuel prices

Written by: Carlos Hermoso and Irish Reyes

Work beyond the regular 9-to-5 schedule usually means additional compensation for hours rendered by most employees, but this is not the case for jeepney drivers in the country. 

The continuous rise in fuel costs necessitates jeepney drivers to extend working hours to account for the lesser income they take home. This constant cycle emphasizes not just the struggle for survival, but the perseverance of jeepney drivers in the face of economic adversity.

From Dawn ‘til Dusk

Ronilo “Rolly” Perez, president of El Danda – Forestry Jeepney Operator Drivers Association Inc. (ELF-JODAI) for 12 years, said that the increasing gasoline expenses have posed significant challenges to their livelihood as jeepney drivers.

“Noong mura pa ang petrolyo, bumabangon ako ng alas-syete ng umaga tapos nakakauwi na ako ng alas-kwatro ng hapon. Ngayon naman inaabot na ako ng alas-syete o alas-otso bago makauwi,” Mang Rolly shares. 

(Back when gasoline was inexpensive, I used to wake up at 7 in the morning and finish by 4 in the afternoon. Nowadays, I find myself working until 7 or 8 in the evening before I can head home.)

Throughout the pandemic, gasoline prices hit a low of Php 35 per liter as a result of reduced oil demand amid community lockdowns. However, they skyrocketed to Php 86 per liter during the middle months of 2022. At present, gasoline prices are at Php 67 per liter on average. Note, however, that price may vary per location and station.

Despite spending more time on the road, jeepney drivers like Mang Rolly have experienced an obvious decline in their earnings. From taking home an average of almost Php 1,000 a day pre-pandemic, this has dropped by nearly half at present.

“Dapat ang kita ko ay Php 700 – PhP 800, ngayon nasa Php 400 – Php 500 na lang kasi yung Php 300 maidadagdag na sa diesel. So napakalaking impact doon sa oras na dapat ay nakapag pahinga na. Dati ay alas kwatro pa lang, nakapahinga na ako,” says Mang Rolly.

(My earnings should be around PhP 700 – Php 800, but now it’s only Php 400 – Php 500 because an additional Php 300 is spent on diesel. So, there’s a huge impact on the time that should have been spent resting. Before, I could rest by four o’clock.)

Behind the Wheel, Beyond the Paycheck

Meanwhile, Alphie Cortez, a member of ELF-JODAI, expresses frustration at the challenge of earning insufficient income from daily drives. 

He disclosed that their operation inside UPLB lasts for four days a week because of the coding scheme, and weekend drives are mostly unstable due to unpredictable commuter demand and traffic along his usual route from Los Baños to Calamba and vice-versa.

When asked about how he manages his insufficient income, Kuya Alphie replies, “tipid talaga, tipirin lang ng kaunti, kasama na ang kape. Para kahit papaano, may makain.”

(Extreme saving, just allocating enough for food like coffee. Just so that we have something to fill our empty stomachs.)

Despite working a minimum of nine hours every day, income generated from driving remains insufficient for Kuya Alphie, Mang Rolly, and other jeepney drivers alike. 

“Umaalis ako ng garahe alas singko ng umaga, ang garahe ko ay alas-otso na ng gabi. Malaki talaga ang pagkakaiba ngayon dahil hirap na makaisang-libo sa isang araw, nakakabawi-bawi lang tuwing rush hour,” says Kuya Alphie.

(I leave the garage at five in the morning, and I’m back by eight in the evening. There’s a really big difference now because it’s hard to make a thousand in a day, I can only catch up during rush hour.)

What Lies Ahead?

On March 12, several oil companies announced that they are set to implement a per-liter decrease of Php 0.50 for gasoline, Php 0.25 for diesel, and PHP 0.30 for kerosene for the upcoming week. However, as of Monday, these companies have announced new price adjustments, with the prices per liter of diesel and gasoline increasing by Php 0.10, while kerosene prices remain unchanged.

However, such reductions hardly make an impact given the significant and continuous increase in gasoline prices. 

The persistent increase in gasoline prices, driven by global conflicts affecting oil supply, remains unpredictable. Emerging from a pandemic that paralyzed the transportation sector, jeepney drivers find themselves grappling with issues that jeopardize their very survival.

Amid this backdrop, the looming deadline for public utility vehicles (PUVs) to consolidate under the PUV Modernization Program set on April 30, 2024, adds another layer of concern. The mandate, while aiming for modernization, poses a significant threat to jeepney drivers nationwide. With already high fuel costs and the substantial expenses required for modernization upgrades, many drivers face the grim prospect of bankruptcy and poverty.

Considering all the challenges confronting jeepney drivers in the Philippines highlights the pressing necessity for policies and initiatives that will champion their concerns during these trying times. However, the future remains uncertain for many jeepney drivers. 

In the face of escalating fuel prices, the pressures of modernization, and the lingering effects of the post-pandemic era, what lies ahead for these revered “Hari ng Kalsada?”