While the remaining regular workers in companies like those cited here are struggling to maintain their union and enclose the contractual or non-regular in their campaigns for better work contracts, if they still have one, they also look at the legislated wage hike as an immediate subsistence relief for the increasing number of non-regular workers who are receiving the minimum wage or something close to it.
But every time workers call for a legislated, nationwide increase in the minimum wage, employers and the government consistently quibble and stonewall.
Pitting jobs against wage increases, conjuring disastrous retrenchments and closures (which have been happening sans wage hikes), the government and employers’ organizations such as the ECOP or Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines would often reason out that small Filipino companies would experience difficulties if an increase in the minimum wage was granted. They recently did it again in answer to the intensified demand for a wage hike. They conveniently hide the fact that small enterprises in the Philippines are often exempted from paying the minimum wage.
The biggest employers and contractors of minimum wage earners in the Philippines are actually composed of profitable companies who often make it to the list of top Philippine corporations, who have partners, parent companies, financiers or strong links with bigger multinational companies and who could likely afford an increase in the minimum wages, if the law finally orders them to do so.
Wage Freeze for Greater Profits
Since 1998, or almost a decade after the inception of regional wage-fixing, the KMU (May First Movement), with the support later by the Anakpawis party-list group as well as by other progressive party-list groups such as Bayan Muna and Gabriela, have been proposing a legislated, nationwide P125 ($2.819) wage hike.
The group described their legislated wage hike demand as not only “a fight for immediate economic relief, but a fight as well to be recognized as humans beings.”
KMU added, “It is a fight to have a fair share of the fruits of our labor which our employers have been enjoying for themselves while our families suffer unbearable poverty and hunger.”
But the legislated wage hike demand has been ignored by Arroyo from 2001 up to now. It repeatedly uses the regional wage boards to counter the wage hike demand by granting paltry increases and by “maneouvring her minions in Congress to block proposed bills ,” said the Anakpawis Party-list.
Now, after more than two decades of falling real wages, it is evident from statistics and from workers’ complaints that they are being denied the Constitutionally-guaranteed living wages.
“These business groups consistently justify the status quo on wage rates to supposedly make room for recovery for companies. (But) What about the recovery of workers? How do you expect us to recover with measly wages and continuing retrenchments?” asked Elmer Labog, chairman of KMU.
In early 2008, when the GNP growth was supposedly averaging 7 percent per year and the last of the paltry increases in the minimum wage was ordered by the government, Mahar Mangahas of Social Weather Station (SWS), in his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, wondered why the Arroyo government was boasting about the GNP with focus only on the production side.
The GNP, Mangahas explained, could be equally measured by surveying factor earnings such as the growth of earnings of people like workers, capitalists, landlords, and renters. Unfortunately, he said, the Arroyo government is not monitoring the trends here.
“The government is not generating regular statistics for wages and profits, etc. because, I think, it will show the inconvenient truth of real wages falling and real profits, etc. rising,” wrote Mangahas.
Regional Wage Boards as Instruments for Frustrating Wage Hike Campaigns
One of the ways in which the government has consistently frustrated the Filipino workers’ demand for wage hikes – even if the wage hike would merely result in recovering what their wages have lost to inflation – is through the regional wage boards, said KMU.
Now on its 21st year, the regional wage boards “have spawned very measly and sparse wage hikes,” said the KMU in a statement. Since 1989, wage hikes in different regions have amounted to an average of only P172 ($3.879), an amount which the KMU described as “an insulting pittance for the hard work of Filipino workers.”
In fact, since 1989, the real wage of Filipinos has noticeably taken a plunge.