SPECIAL REPORT: “For decades now, workers have experienced worsening hunger and poverty because of the intensifying attacks on the minimum wage while big businesses earn superprofits and big bureaucrats become very wealthy.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The last time Filipino workers got a relatively substantial increase of P89 in minimum wage was in July 1989, when the Philippine government enacted Republic Act 6727. Since then, it imposed multiple wage levels in the country that, after 25 years, the labor sector sees wage rationalization as just “a modus operandi to press down workers’ wages.”
The Regional Wage Boards issued a total of 275 wage orders from 1990 to present, giving just P1 to P20 cost of living allowances that were integrated to minimum wages only in the following year or so.
Government workers’ wage system was also changed in 1989, a month after the private sector, via RA 6758. Dubbed as Salary Standardization Law, it revised their compensation and position classification and pegged salary rates and increases for each especially when public sector workers demanded hikes.
Twenty-five years after the Wage Rationalization Law and the Salary Standardization Law were first implemented in the Philippines, the DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) said the country has more than 1,000 wage levels by now.
“The Wage Rationalization Law was designed to ward off a significant wage hike and therefore press down wages. It has contributed to the worsening hunger and poverty being experienced by workers and their families, and should be junked,” said Roger Soluta, secretary-general of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).
The same happened to government workers whose top tier or top grade employees got the highest increases while those in lower grades got the lowest.
This Thursday (Nov. 20), government and private sector workers simultaneously staged a National Walkout in various cities all over the country to push for a law on National Minimum Wage, and to demand its amount to be pegged for starters at P16,000 ($356).
The All Workers’ Unity said it is pegging its call for a National Minimum Wage at P16,000 ($356) monthly because the amount is half of the Family Living Wage computed monthly. The FLW, the research for which was originally undertaken by the government and has been continued by independent think-tank Ibon Foundation, stood at P1,083 ($24) as of August 2014.
Under the campaign network All Workers Unity (AWU), “Workers are fighting back against the intensifying attacks on the minimum wage,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of the Kilusang Mayo Uno and a member of AWU.
In Metro Manila, the workers picketed the Department of Labor and Employment main office and assembled at the Supreme Court in Manila; the National Housing Authority, Department of Agriculture, Department of Social Welfare and Development, National Printing Office, Sandiganbayan, and Court of Tax Appeals in Quezon City; the Senate in Pasay City; and the Metro Manila Development Authority in Makati City.
They also held walkouts in Baguio City, San Pablo City and Calamba in Laguna, Iloilo City, Bacolod City, Cebu City, Davao City and Cotabato City.
In Baguio City, along Session Rd., members of the All UP Workers’ Alliance, Baguio General Hospital Employees’ Association and Agrofoods Employees Union converged at the Post Office grounds and held a short program during lunchtime. In Davao City, Rudy Aranjuez, national chairperson of COURAGE-WATER and union president of Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Davao City Water District (NAMADACWAD-COURAGE), led the picket outside their office.
“Workers in the private and public sectors have come together to wage a stronger fight for higher wages and the rolling back of attacks on the minimum wage. We are continuing and intensifying workers’ historic struggle for a minimum wage,” said Ferdie Gaite, National President of the government employees’ national center COURAGE, another AWU member.
‘Attacks’ on wage
Aside from the salary standardization law and wage regionalization, workers from the public and private sectors said wages are being ‘attacked’ through other neoliberal changes in the employment status. Neoliberal economic policies in workers’ experience resulted in greater freedom for capitalists and employers to hire and fire workers – and that meant changing the employment status of a growing number of workers from regular to non-regular and contractual.
Coupled with reducing the minimum wages by fracturing the setting of amounts per region, districts and per salary grade or position, a growing number of employees have become non-regular employees, even if they are clearly needed on the job and have been working for years.
For private sector workers, the Labor department issued orders that “legalize” contractualization via outsourcing of what used to be regular workers’ jobs. For public sector workers, the government issued “freeze hiring” and “rationalization” orders under which it staffed its offices with contractual workers, “emergency hirees,” etc.
Freeze hiring in government started in 2004, when Executive Order 366 called for government reorganization, a unionist with the National Housing Authority told Bulatlat.com. The reorganization, she said, intends to reduce the bureaucracy, but it continues to hire without giving benefits.
These moves reduced the headcount of all unions in the country, and thus reduced their bargaining power. In the private sector, more than half now of big companies are estimated to be made up of contractual or non-regular workers earning less than the “minimum wage” and receiving little to no benefits.
In the public sector, nearly half of the employees of some government agencies are now made up of non-regular “emergency hirees, job order employees, etc.” In the National Housing Authority, for example, more than 1400 are regular and about the same headcount are non-regular.
Lolita Osit, treasurer of NHA Consolidated Union of Employees, said many non-regular employees in their agency include engineers and architects who have been with them for years.
“For decades now, workers have experienced worsening hunger and poverty because of the intensifying attacks on the minimum wage while big businesses earn superprofits and big bureaucrats become very wealthy,” Jeannette Cawiding, Cordillera Regional Coordinator of Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), said during their walkout.
Ferdie Gaite, national president of COURAGE, said a national minimum wage in the amount of P16,000 ($356) monthly would provide workers a much-needed immediate relief”. They said their computation of the increasing profits of corporations and increasing government revenues through the years showed that the demanded national minimum wage can actually be implemented.