In the ECOP national conference, Aquino said his government has “no intention of asking Congress to legislate an across-the-board increase in wages.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Less than a week after eating breakfast with labor leaders and expressing a desire to meet with labor more frequently rather than just during Labor Day, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III spoke at the 32nd national conference of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) last week and allayed the employers’ fear of his administration approving a legislated substantial wage hike.
Against a backdrop of steeply falling approval ratings and weeks of non-committal statements about granting a wage hike, President Aquino uttered his “most direct rejection of workers’ calls for a substantial and therefore legislated wage hike,” as Roger Soluta, secretary-general of labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), noted in a statement.
In the ECOP national conference, Aquino said his government has “no intention of asking Congress to legislate an across-the-board increase in wages.” The KMU viewed this as a “direct rebuff to workers’ calls for a substantial wage hike” such as the proposed P125 ($2.91) nationwide wage hike bill, which has languished for a decade now in Congress.
Aquino’s statement tied neatly with the employers’ position. On the very first day of the ECOP national conference, Mr Miguel Varela, its chairman, has explicitly criticized the P125 ($2.91) wage hike proposal. The ECOP president, Mr Edgardo Lacson, criticized the “regularity of the yearly wage hike order”. Lacson also chided the “wage authorities” for confirming the existence of “supervening events,” which paved the way for new wage orders as “employers have expressed reservations.”
“Not surprising but still appalling”
The combined outright rejection of labor’s substantial wage hike demand by both President Aquino and ECOP was immediately met with an indignation rally at the Mendiola Bridge last Friday. Joining the rally of the health workers who are demanding a substantial wage hike themselves, the protesters performed a “visualization” of how Aquino on one end and the “foreign and local capitalists on the other end” are “strangling the Filipino masses” with the Cojuangco-Aquino’s famed yellow ribbon.
The first wage board’s hearings at the National Capital Region (NCR) have also been marked with clashes as labor groups led by the KMU in NCR stormed its offices.
As the Aquino government and the country’s employers try to outdo each other justifying the most meager of likely wage “increases”— with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas dangling P25 or $0.58 (saying it is the right amount for a manageable inflation) and the ECOP offering P13.35 or $0.31 (saying it is only the amount it could afford)— some think-tanks and labor advocates once again showed why these government and employers’ justifications are flawed.
Why P125 wage hike is still better
“The P13-wage hike proposed by employers is not enough to even restore the real wage to its June 2010 level,” said research group IBON, adding that since Aquino started residing in Malacañang, inflation has eroded the daily minimum wage in Metro Manila to just P234.90 ($5.46).
In case Aquino would only restore the real value of the minimum wage to its level when he first began as president, assuming he has abandoned all pretenses of ushering in “change” as he promised in his election campaign– then an increase of at least P18.50 ($0.43) is called for, based on Ibon’s calculations. But merely restoring what inflation has eroded since the start of the Aquino administration, by giving an increase of just P18.50, would even be worse than “loose change,” as the KMU derisively called Aquino’s campaign promise of “change.”
“The latest round of hikes in pump prices, the 14th this year, should prompt the House of Representatives to heed the labor’s clamor for a legislated across-the-board wage increase, said EILER, a labor NGO, in a statement.
EILER said the unabated increases in pump prices point to “worse wage erosion that warrants a significant pay hike.” Dismissing the possible wage hikes to be granted maybe by the wage boards in the National Capital Region and the Visayas as “spare change” and “divisive,” EILER called on the House of Representatives to act “swiftly on the P125-wage increase bill to at least stabilize the declining value of wages.
A wage hike of P125 as demanded by progressive worker groups would bring the minimum wage to its highest ever real value, said Ibon, adding that the amount is just a 15 percent cut in the profits of employers with 20 and over workers. If ever, Ibon said “this would also be the first indication that there is any change taking place under the Aquino administration.” A P125-wage hike would raise the real value of the minimum wage to Php304.90 ($7.10), said Ibon. This would even not be enough to give a worker’s family a decent standard of living, Ibon clarified, but at least, it will provide the working people much-needed respite from skyrocketing prices.