MANILA, Philippines – The Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB) in Metro Manila is willing to look into the demand of workers for a P135 pay increase as thousands of workers nationwide marked Labor Day with rallies calling for a wage hike.
“If a wage petition is filed with the board, the board will accept it. It is the function of the board to continue the review on wage situation,” Alex Avila, Department of Labor and Employment-National Capital Region director and RTWPB-NCR chair, yesterday said.
But he said the wage board would abide by the law prohibiting successive wage increases in one year.
The wage board in Metro Manila approved an increase last July, but the first tranche of the pay hike was given only in October 2013 and the second tranche in January.
“Unless there is supervening events or extraordinary increase in prices of basic commodities, there in a one-year ban in granting of salary hike,” Avila pointed out.
The National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) earlier ruled out the possibility of a P125 across-the-board wage increase, saying it would lead to massive displacement of workers nationwide.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) had announced its plan to file a petition seeking a P135 increase in the daily pay of all workers in Metro Manila.
TUCP, the country’s largest labor group, said they would also file similar petitions before other wage boards nationwide.
A salary hike is needed to help the workers’ cope with wage erosion. the group said.
The militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) has been pushing for a P125 across-the-board wage increase, but the NWPC said it would lead to massive displacement of workers nationwide.
Joselito Ustarez, national vice chairman of KMU, said there would be no letup in the militants’ fight for a P125 daily wage increase.
As long as there’s a Congress and Senate, the workers won’t stop asking for a legislated wage increase, he said.
KMU is also seeking tax exemption for minimum wage workers.
Ustarez said a P125 wage hike is needed, especially by workers outside Metro Manila, but it would never be enough to cover the daily needs of a family.
He added that the value of the amount had depreciated, considering that it has been more than a decade since they pushed for its approval.
Labor Day protest rallies staged by militant and leftist groups at the Liwasang Bonifacio and Chino Roces Bridge were generally peaceful, police said.
National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Carmelo Valmoria said no untoward incident was reported during the protest rally as the police kept their distance from the protesters.
“We allowed them to air their grievances as long as they want and I’m congratulating their leaders for policing their ranks, resulting in a peaceful gathering,” said Valmoria.
At least 700 policemen were deployed and ordered to maintain maximum tolerance in dealing with the rallyists, said Valmoria.
“So far our security deployment is holding. They are not rowdy and not agitating our anti-riot cops into a violent confrontation and I’m thankful for that,” he said.
The rallyists said President Aquino has done nothing for workers since he assumed office. “Even the job fairs the Department of Labor is holding today are labor legacy of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” said Partidong Manggagawa president Renato Magtubo.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, in pushing for the approval of his bill for a P125 across-the-board wage increase, also slammed the President for failure to increase the wages of workers four years into his administration.
“Under the Aquino administration wages remain to be very low and (workers) have little or no benefits at all,” he said.
He said non-wage benefits handed out by government are crumbs intended to placate the people’s frustration with government.
Thousands of workers trooped to the main thoroughfares of Davao City while survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda in Capiz burned an effigy and at least 100 pictures of President Aquino during a rally organized by militant groups at the provincial capitol.
Former national treasurer Leonor Briones said the national budget is a powerful tool to address unemployment and underemployment.
“With this year’s P2.26-trillion budget, the government can generate jobs, depending upon which sector spends the money. For example, qualified nurses and teachers can be accommodated through increased spending on health and education,” she said.
Citing World Bank’s Philippine Development Report for 2013, Social Watch Philippines, of which Briones is lead convenor, said around 200,000 Filipinos look for work abroad.
Government statistics show that unemployment and underemployment are at 7.5 percent and 19.5 percent, respectively. Of the 39.6-million labor force, an estimated 2.96 million Filipinos are currently unemployed. Around seven million are underemployed, which means that they are employed but seeking full-time jobs.
The largest proportion of the underemployed (45 percent) comes from the agricultural sector. The agricultural sector experienced the lowest growth rate in 2013, at only 1.1 percent. Many of the poor and marginalized come from this sector as well.
Briones said unemployment stems from the systemic issues of poverty and corruption.
She said citizens should pay attention to the budget because it affects their daily lives and their prospects for employment.
“It is our business to know where the money goes and if there can be jobs generated. This is especially important for the new graduates and their parents, who have toiled for many years in school with the hope of landing a secure job,” Briones said.
‘Urgent legislative attention’
Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon assured the public the Senate would work double time to enact pro-worker legislation.
He said among the pending measures that will receive “urgent legislative attention” is Senate Bill 256 that seeks to raise the tax exemption limit on the 13th month pay and other work benefits of all workers in the public and private sector.
“We will work double time in making sure that this piece of legislation will be enacted into law at the soonest time in order to assist our workers in dealing with the effect of inflation, and to boost their morale and give them a renewed inspiration to excel in their works,” he said.
Drilon also urged the appropriate Senate committee to fast-track the hearing on Senate Bill 256, authored by Senate Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, which seeks to raise the exclusion limit on the 13th month pay and other work benefits from taxation from the current limit of P30,000 to P75,000.
Drilon said the bill seeking to raise the allowance of policemen and soldiers would also be given priority.
In his Labor Day message, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the House of Representatives would pass measures that would improve labor conditions to encourage workers not to seek employment abroad.
He said the House would endeavor to continue being “responsive and supportive” to the needs of workers.
“We are dedicated to crafting significant measures aimed at uplifting not only your lives, but also the lives of all our countrymen,” he said.
He said he is looking forward to working with the labor sector with the goal of establishing a working and economic environment “that will make it worthwhile for you to stay in our country instead of seeking greener pastures abroad.”
He said Filipino human resources are in demand globally and the government should work harder to ensure the country would be first to benefit from it.
“We see our countrymen at work in numerous occupations and contribute to the growth of those nations. Why then should we not take a long-term view and develop mutually beneficial programs to improve the quality of our human resources for the benefit of our very own nation,” he said in the statement.
“We should not stagnate and remain as a nation of factory workers, or be satisfied with being workers of foreign companies. We should be laying down the foundations for creating a quality human resource of entrepreneurs, technology specialists and developers, inventors and other economic production leaders,” he said.
Belmonte said Filipino workers in the private and public sectors both here and abroad are the “true foundation of our country and in your hands lie the directions we can take as a nation.”
Magna Carta for informal workers
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara is pushing for the passage of Senate Bill 1941 or the Magna Carta of Workers in the Informal Economy.
Workers in the informal economy include micro-entrepreneurs, home-based workers, vendors, jeepney and tricycle drivers, small and landless farmers, fisherfolk, non-corporate construction workers, garbage collectors and recyclers, petty retailers, barter traders, small-scale miners and quarry workers, entertainers, beauticians and hairdressers, laundry persons, on-call domestic helpers, barangay health workers and other volunteer workers.
SB 1941 mandates that informal workers must enjoy a living wage and equal remuneration for work; safe and healthy working conditions; rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours; maternity protection; adequate standard of living for workers and their families; education especially of children; and social protection such as labor market programs, social security, health care and insurance and social welfare interventions.
The proposed measure also assures the informal workers of their right to self-organization; against any form of discrimination, violence, sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse; and to equal treatment before the law and equal access to justice.
There is an estimated 25 million Filipino workers in the informal sector.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle called on the workers to be united in facing their problems.
In a two-page Labor Day message, Tagle said problems caused by lack of job opportunities, low salaries and lack of employment security have forced millions of Filipinos to look for work abroad.
“Let us remember the second most important teaching of the Church on work – solidarity. Most important of all is the labor sector should be united so they would have one voice when they face the challenges that are related to labor,” he said.
He said Filipinos should live up to the spirit of bayanihan, noting “if we will work together then there is no problem that we will not solve.”
– Rhodina Villanueva, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, Evelyn Macairan, Aie Balagtas See, Non Alquitran, Edith Regalado, Michelle Zoleta