By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Finally, after more than a decade, the proposed legislated wage hike bill in Congress has seemingly got a promised approval of the House labor committee. The pending House Bill 375 in Congress is seeking to legislate a P125 across-the-board wage increase nationwide.
The said bill was first filed in Congress by then Bayan Muna and later Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Crispin Beltran, who died in 2008. Following Beltran’s untimely death, it was re-filed by Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano as soon as the present Congress was convened. The bill has since earned the support of most labor groups in the country and even of boxing icon and Sarangani Rep. Manny Paquiao. But employers and even the labor department have continued to derail and block its passing, uttering what the labor groups described as already clichéd arguments.
The bill, according to the labor groups, had been blocked by the Arroyo government, through the regional wage boards. Under Aquino, who had promised change, the bill’s passage should have been a priority, the labor groups said from the start of his term.
Two years later today, the progressive labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) hailed the House Committee on Labor’s announcement that it is set to approve House Bill 375, which would legislate a P125 across-the-board wage increase nationwide. A significant wage hike is a much-needed relief for workers amid rising prices, the KMU said in a statement.
Time to redistribute wealth?
In the decade in took for the legislated wage hike bill to get the House Committee on Labor’s impending approval, the real value of the nominal minimum wage rate in the country has shrunk by more than half, according to independent think-tank Ibon Foundation. Not only that, it has shrunk also to just a third of the government-declared amount needed to live decently, whereas before it was half of that. From P257 ($5.79) in 2001, the gap between the minimum and living wages in 2011 increased to P553 ($12.47), said Joel Maglunsod, spokesperson of Anakpawis Partylist.
Profits, meanwhile, continue to bloat especially for big employers. As workers struggle to stretch their wages, the “Top ten firms in the country more than doubled their income in ten years from P576 billion ($13.1billion) to P1.26 trillion ($29 billion), an amount equivalent to the annual salaries of 10 million minimum wage earners,” said Maglunsod.
In announcing the House committee’s likely approval of the proposed nationwide wage hike, Northern Samar Rep. Emil Ong, chairman of House labor committee, also called for distributing the wealth created by workers. He said his committee is studying profit-sharing schemes. For Rep. Ong, that would also benefit the government in terms of greater transparency and thus greater efficiency at knowing how much taxes these companies really owe the government.
“We welcome the House Committee on Labor’s approval of the P125 Wage Hike Bill. We vow to intensify our protests to call for the House plenary’s approval of this most urgent and long-overdue of bills,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of KMU.
“We are glad that some members of the House of Representatives are already taking steps to help workers and poor people gain some relief from the rising prices of basic goods and services,” he added.
The KMU and other labor groups have repeatedly said their experiences showed through the years “that we cannot rely on the country’s regional wage boards to give us a significant wage hike,” Labog said.
The KMU praised also as “productive” the regional hearings conducted by the House Committee on Labor. It seemed to have clarified the basis for passing the P125 Wage Hike Bill.
Ong has disclosed that businessmen in Mindanao also did not oppose the measure, mainly because approving it would still mean that the wage level in the island is still lower than that in Metro Manila.
“The hearings showed the country’s legislators how badly workers need a significant wage hike. It also showed them that capitalists across the country have the capacity to grant a substantial wage increase,” Labog said.
The hearings have reportedly showed the labor committee that the real value of workers’ wages has been shrinking due to incessant price hikes. “Workers have been made poorer and hungrier by the government’s refusal to approve a significant wage hike for a decade now,” Labog added.
KMU called on Reps. Marc Douglas Cagas IV (1st Dist., Davao del Sur), Philip Pichay (1st Dist., Surigao del Sur), Antonio Lagdameo (2nd Dist., Davao del Norte), and Cesar G. Jalosjos (3rd District, Zamboanga del Norte) to become co-sponsors of the bill, having attended the last hearing in Davao.
“We are calling on legislators who attended the P125 Wage Hike Bill’s regional hearings to become co-sponsors. It should be clear to them by now that workers across the country are really clamoring for a substantial wage hike,” Labog said.