“No nation can prosper while its population wallow in unemployment and the government’s remedy for the problem is to herd its people and leave them to their fates abroad.” – Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – There was a time when the first of May usually brought good news such as wage hikes. But nowadays, not only do workers not get a substantial wage hike, their hard-won wages are even being eroded and undercut by the government’s new wage policies. “President Aquino has given big businesses and capitalists the imprimatur to further exploit Filipino workers by cutting and freezing wages through the Two-Tiered Wage System,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Representatives Luz Ilagan and Emmi De Jesus. The new wage policy apparently adds to the wage-freeze capability of regionalized wage-setting. In Region 4, it has ordered a lower than minimum wage called “floor wage.”
The two-tier wage system consists of ‘a floor wage’ and a productivity-based wage. Wages would now not only be varied per region of the Philippines, it would also be part-fixed, part-productivity-based. But only the part-fixed, which lowers the mandated minimum wages, is mandatory.
The productivity-based pay would be determined by employers, who have the final say if productivity levels warrant a wage hike. Labor rights advocates have previously said that with employers determining increases based on productivity, it would nearly be impossible for workers to get any. Employers do not operate like that, they say.
“The productivity–based second tier will bleed workers dry with higher quotas, higher demands and more exploitative working conditions and women workers will suffer most,” warned Ilagan.
De Jesus said workers see through the Department of Labor and Employment’s efforts to make the new wage system appear like an opportunity for workers to increase take home pay with increased productivity. “Who are they fooling?”
Spreading the plague of wage cuts
Aquino’s newly imposed wage system, piloted in Region 4 last year, is set for implementation nationwide, covering both public and private sectors. Its implementation prompted ACT Teachers Party-List Representative Antonio Tinio to say that the “anti-labor character of this President is getting clearer every day.”
Tinio warned that the two-tiered wage system would dump the minimum-wage system in favor of a “floor wage” and “productivity incentives.” He said Aquino’s ‘floor wage’ is more of a ‘basement wage’ – since it is lower than the present minimum wage. “It would spell greater exploitation for labor but, surely, higher profits for the capitalist.”
The two-tier wage system is set for implementation as well on state workers, under the Performance-Based Incentive System (PBIS).
Tinio, who represents teaching and non-teaching education workers in the Lower House, said Aquino’s pronouncements related to PBIS “indicate that he wants to veer away from across-the-board salary increases and instead give Performance-Based Bonuses (PBB) to purportedly enhance government services.” A deeper look at this PBIS revealed worrying implications, according to Tinio. He cited its ban on new bonuses or any increase in existing ones as one example. For the Department of Education, he said this also means that the bonus of teachers and other personnel will depend on factors over which they have no control, like drop-out rates.
If private sector workers are seeing the abolition of their minimum wages under the two-tier wage system, the public sector employees are looking at something similar via the so-called Performance-Based Bonuses (PBB), Tinio said.
“We believe that PBB is designed to pave the way for the relaxation or total abolition of salary standardization for state workers, much like what Aquino has planned for the private sector,” said Tinio. Like in the private sector, seeking any amount of wage hike based on productivity would require a relatively strong workers’ body, an organization that can scale any stumbling block historically erected by employers against wage hike. But, Tinio warned workers, Aquino is “allergic to unions and collective negotiation.” In the guise of protecting workers, the Aquino government has been sidelining the unions, not just by harassing them but also by trapping them into toothless tripartite formations.
In the public sector, Aquino has also been reportedly undermining unions. Since last year, Aquino has removed the budgetary item for incentives and other monetary benefits due under collective negotiation agreements, a move which, ACT Teachers Rep. Tinio said, “greatly undermines unions of government employees.”
Solutions abound, but Aquino ignores it
As a requisite for progress, the plight of workers has to improve, Bayan Muna said in a statement. Even as wages are currently being undercut by Aquino’s new wage system, the presently mandated minimum wages are, in the first place, already insufficient to buy the workers’ family a decent life, said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares. “To compound the injury, the government is toothless in implementing the minimum wage and many employers openly violate it,” he said.
Even without the two-tier wage system, wages are already being lowered under contractualization schemes of employment. “Many of our workers are perpetual casuals and deprived of benefits. Ironically, this is prevalent even in government-run export processing zones. In many workplaces like call centers, workers’ rights and privileges have been thrown out of the window,” said Colmenares.
Bayan Muna reiterates that lack of jobs in the country also forces many Filipinos to jockey for the limited jobs available. He said the government has no long-term program to confront the problem and it resorts only to theatrical job fairs and dole-outs to paint a distorted abstract of progress.
To resolve that, the government must implement an industrialization program, said Colmenares. This would fully utilize the talents of our people, he said, a well-compensated workforce can drive our economy into full gear towards development.
“No nation can prosper while its population wallow in unemployment and the government’s remedy for the problem is to herd its people and leave them to their fates abroad,” Colmenares said.
But the Aquino government has publicly shown it is averse to national industrialization. President Aquino revealed this when he justified his government’s move to end peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines recently. Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda last Monday said the NDFP’s use of “national industrialization” and similar phrases has hampered the talks’ progress. Aquino reportedly said that the phrase “national industrialization” is passé, and that it represents a 1950s or 1960s mindset.
On the contrary, national industrialization remains a most important call for the country’s workers, said the labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). KMU said there’s chronic unemployment in the country because the government has refused to develop agriculture and basic industries to serve local needs and has instead relied on foreign investments to generate jobs.