MANILA – President Aquino is going down in history as the president who promised in his inauguration that his constituents can dream again, yet spent his entire term pressing the workers’ wages further down to “pitiful levels.” This is the message discussed by workers in a picket protest before the main office of the Labor Department in Manila today, April 21. Led by national labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), they took the Aquino administration to task for what it described as “fierce attacks” on workers’ minimum and living wages.
The labor group said under Aquino, minimum wage levels were adjusted only pitifully, the minimum wage was further attacked by heightened disparities between legally-mandated minimum wages in the country’s regions, and the minimum wage was removed from the track of getting closer to the living wage.
“While big foreign and local capitalists gloat about increased profits under Aquino, workers’ families suffer from intensifying hunger and poverty because of lower wages,” said Jerome Adonis, KMU secretary-general.
The labor leader cited a January 2016 study of independent think-tank Ibon Foundation which says the real value of the minimum wage in Metro Manila, the highest in the country, increased by only P17.06 ($0.37). Under Aquino, the worker’s wages hardly improved and remained less than half of the value of Family Living Wage. The think-tank said the real minimum wage barely increased compared to the value of the Family Living Wage – real minimum wage grew from 42 percent in July 2010 to just 44 percent of Family Living Wage in December 2015.
Most regions in the Philippines have lower than P365 ($7.85) legally mandated minimum wages. According to Adonis of KMU, six regions (3-Central Luzon, 4-A Calabarzon, 6-Western Visayas, 7-Central Visayas, 10-Northern Mindanao, and 11-Davao Region) have legally-mandated minimum wage levels lower than P365. Meanwhile, 10 regions pay lower than P290 ($6.23), (CAR, 1-Ilocos Region, 2-Cagayan Valley, 4-B Mimaropa, 5-Bicol, 8-Eastern Visayas, 9-Zamboanga Peninsula, 12- Soccsksargen,13-Caraga, and ARMM).
Further eroding the minimum wage is the Aquino government’s implementation of two-tier wage system. Adonis said the Aquino government changed in this system the measure of what is considered legally mandated wage — from being measured in comparison to an agreed standard of living to an arbitrarily pegged “poverty threshold” set by the government.
“The erosion and further pressing down of the minimum wage is one of the clearest proofs of the sorry condition of Filipino workers,” Adonis said, adding that all these show the workers need a National Minimum Wage in the amount of P750 ($16) daily.
As national candidates scramble to woe voters, the picketing workers dared the presidential candidates in particular to publicly state their stand on the workers’ call for P750 ($16) national minimum wage.
The workers brought pictures of the candidates’ faces inside baskets typically used when people buy groceries or go to the wet market.
“It seems that workers have very limited choices in the current crop of presidentiables, in the same way that we can only put a limited amount of goods in our baskets,” Adonis said.
Still, they persisted in issuing the challenge to the presidentiables on the workers’ P750 ($16) national minimum wage demand.