“Social justice dictates that those who create the nation’s wealth be granted at least their right to a minimum wage amidst the increasing profits and wealth of a handful of capitalists and bureaucrats. We have every reason to believe that capitalists and the government can grant our just demand.” – Ferdinand Gaite, Courage
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Everyday, a worker in sanitation of Wyeth Philippines goes to work knowing he or she might pass out. It is all in the day‘s work: swabbing with alcohol the walls and floors of an airtight room where the packaged no. 1 baby milk formula is to be stored. Co-workers enter the room to bring out a worker who passes out. When he or she regains consciousness, the job continues.
In a manufacturing plant of Pepsi Philippines, a contractual worker thrust in a job with machines yet unfamiliar to him died when his head was crushed by that machine. His family has yet to receive help from the company or the government, said an officer of ANGLO (Alliance of Nationalist and Genuine Labor Organization).
Even as they work in dangerous conditions for big, widely known companies, Filipino workers receive only the prescribed minimum wages in their areas, or, as labor groups often complained, just a fraction of the prescribed minimum wage. Worse, historical wage figures show minimum wage levels in the country are always below the amount a family needs to live decently.
At the launch last week of a campaign for a national minimum wage hike, Ferdinand Gaite, president of public sector confederation COURAGE, said: “(Through labor struggle) our minimum wage had reached up to 50 percent of family living wage in the early 90s. But it has continuously gone down.”
In the Philippines, the first Minimum Wage Law was passed in 1951, following a strong campaign of progressive labor movement led by the Congress of Labor Organizations. But in 1989, this law was all but practically scrapped by two laws, which changed the way minimum wages are determined, said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).
Since the Philippine government enacted the law that created for private sector workers the regional wage boards, and for public sector the so-called salary standardization, the government “Basically returned the Philippines to a period without minimum wages,” said Labog.
With hundreds of minimum wage rates prevailing per region, district or province and industry, there is no real minimum wage rate in the country, workers groups said. An all-workers’ unity campaign aims to correct that.
More than 300 unionists attended the launch of campaign for a P16,000 per month national minimum wage, with a new battle cry saying “one class, one struggle.” Gathering at the National Printing Office in Quezon City, they took turns explaining why there is a glaring need for a national minimum wage and a significant wage hike.
The all workers’ unity was composed of national labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno, government employees’ center Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees, teachers’ center Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and health workers’ center Alliance of Health Workers.
They traced the history of struggle for a minimum wage not just by Filipinos but by the whole world’s entire working class. Labog blamed neo liberal policies for having attacked and broken the minimum wage.
Based on Labog’s speech, neoliberal policies have translated to variously called programs implemented in different countries, all seeking to make labor cost cheaper, make it easier to hire and fire workers, and further enlarge the proportion of profits that go to capitalists. Described as “flexibilization” in some literature, these policies in the Philippines resulted in the salary standardization law, wage rationalization act, and different labor department orders such as those branded by workers as legalizing contractualization and forced overtime, among others.
Republic Act 6727 or the Wage Rationalization Act of 1989 created the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB), which has been the powerful body determining the varying levels of minimum wages for the regions in the country, Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap said in a statement.
But the way the government performs this function is questioned by its own employees. From the labor department’s NWPC (National Wages and Productivity Commission) itself, Elvie Prudencio, union president of NWPC employees, said the NWPC is inutile. She clarified that its workers are not. “We are fighting with you,” she told the gathered all-workers’ unions at the launch of the P16,000 national minimum wage campaign.
Prudencio raised doubts over the government’s computation of basket of goods, of which one component is rice and the government has pegged its price at just P32/kilo. It is the price of NFA rice, which is not easy to find in the market.
“The government claims that minimum wages are determined through public consultation. But how could that be when it is done in a closed door meeting?” said Prudencio.
In their unity statement, the public and private sector workers’ groups said “The P466 daily minimum wage for private-sector workers in the National Capital Region and the P9,000 monthly salary of government employees on Salary Grade 1 do not cover even half of the Family Living Wage, currently pegged at P1,086 a day.”
Significant wage hike for social justice
“Social justice dictates that those who create the nation’s wealth be granted at least their right to a minimum wage amidst the increasing profits and wealth of a handful of capitalists and bureaucrats. We have every reason to believe that capitalists and the government can grant our just demand,” said Ferdinand Gaite, Courage national president.
Gaite also cited the recent findings of the Social Weather Stations survey showing that 55 per cent of Filipinos consider themselves poor and 43 per cent consider themselves food-poor, both figures constituting an increase from the previous year.
In calling for a national minimum wage of at least P16,000 the workers’ groups are demanding the scrapping of RA 6727 and in its place, the enactment of a National Minimum Wage Law.
There are currently about 1,000 wage levels in the Philippines. “The regionalization of wages is a move to further press down workers’ wages and worsen the hunger and poverty among workers outside NCR,” the workers groups’ unity statement said. They decry as well the fact that for years now, no significant wage hike has been implemented. Most hikes are ‘measly,’ they said. And considering the thousand minimum wage rates in the country are already below the family living wages, the workers groups said capitalists and government continuously violate these minimum wages.
“Our groups have come together to fight for a P16,000 National Minimum Wage in order to strengthen the workers’ and employees’ fight for a significant wage hike and for the restoration of the national minimum wage,” said Labog.
The groups said that P16,000 is half of the Family Living Wage computed monthly, and constitutes a significant wage hike that would give workers and employees immediate relief from worsening hunger and poverty in the country.
They arrived at the amount by multiplying P1,086, which, according to independent think-tank Ibon Foundation, is the family living wage in August 2014, by 30 days and then dividing the product by two.