Amid Crisis: Workers to Launch Association vs Retrenchments, Contractualization; Push Wage Fight

Demand for wage increases

Suyat said that along with the campaign against retrenchments and for government action to respond to the plight of jobless workers, KMU would press on with its campaign for a P125 ($2.59 at the current exchange rate of $1=P48.28) across-the-board increase in the daily wage.

The demand for a P125 wage increase was first put forward by the KMU – then under the leadership of Crispin Beltran – in 1999, nearly a year into the presidency of Joseph Estrada who won the 1998 presidential elections on an avowed populist “platform.”

Back then, the family living wage for a family of six – the average Filipino family – was P379.51 ($9.71 at the year’s average exchange rate of $1:P39.09) a day on a national average, based on data from the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC). In contrast, the daily minimum wage then stood at a national average of P193.67 ($4.95).

A P125 wage increase at that time would have brought the national average minimum wage to P318.67 ($8.15), or P60.84 short of the national average family living wage that year.

The Estrada administration, which ascended to power on the basis of a proclaimed love for the “Filipino masses,” never paid heed to this demand of the KMU.

Estrada was ousted in 2001 through a popular uprising that was largely anti-corruption. He was succeeded by his vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The demand for a P125 wage increase was among the items in the “People’s Agenda” that cause-oriented groups presented to Arroyo during her first days in office.

The required living wage for an average Filipino family was in 2001 a far cry from what it is now. That year, it stood at a national average of P445.53 ($10.89 at that year’s average exchange rate of $1:P40.89), based on data from the NWPC. The highest regional minimum wage then was in the National Capital Region (NCR), which was pegged at P250 ($6.11). At a national average, however, the daily minimum wage that year stood at P222.42 ($5.439), based on data from the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE).

Even then, a P125 across-the-board, nationwide wage increase would have been insufficient to bridge the gap between the minimum wage and the required family living wage. An additional P125 would have brought up the 2001 daily minimum wage to P347.42 ($8.496)– which is P98.11 short of what an average Filipino family needed to survive daily that year.

Nearly seven years after first assuming power, the Arroyo administration has yet to heed this demand of the KMU.

The national average family living wage has risen by more than P125 since 2001. Since then there have been trickles of wage increases – which were soon eaten up by runaway inflation.

During his three terms as representative, Beltran was able to file three bills for a legislated minimum wage hike. He first filed a wage-hike bill in 2001, as a representative of Bayan Muna (People First). It never went beyond first reading.

The second, HB 345 – which Beltran filed as Anakpawis representative – was approved at the plenary of the House of Representatives by a vote of 151-0 on Dec. 20, 2006. Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada – son of Arroyo’s predecessor – was sponsoring a counterpart bill at that time.

The next month, however, HB 345 was recalled upon a motion filed by Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, purportedly to allow further debate and deliberation. Malacañang supported this move of the House of Representatives, and the younger Estrada deferred sponsorship of the counterpart Senate bill.

The business community has called for a moratorium on wage increases amid the crisis.

“In this time of crisis, there is a greater need to increase workers’ wages,” Suyat said. “Workers have no other means of survival. If businessmen are affected they have many things to fall back on: they have other properties, they have money in the bank. With workers that is not the case, and they are often compelled to hang from the knife’s edge.”(Bulatlat.com)

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