This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (www.bulatlat.com, www.bulatlat.net, www.bulatlat.org).
Vol. V, No. 18, June 12-18, 2005


 

LABOR WATCH

Patience Wearing Thin for Workers
Wage hike legislation nears 6 years

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo faces a punishment worse than impeachment if she continues to ignore the demand of workers for a legislated wage increase in the minimum daily wage by P125 ($2.26). A party-list legislator argued that she faces the people’s wrath if workers are left with no other choice but to take the issue to the streets.

BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Bulatlat

Progressive labor has called for a P125 ($2.26, based on an exchange rate of P55.20 per U.S. dollar) increase in the minimum daily wage since August 1999. Almost six years have passed and concerned legislators have taken the cudgels for workers in this regard. However, the bill is caught in the bureaucratic maze of the House.

In the current 13th Congress, Anakpawis Party-list, Bayan Muna and Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) filed House Bill (HB) No. 1063 while Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Roseller Barinaga who is also chair of the House Committee on Labor and Employment sponsored HB 162. Both called for the P125 ($2.26) increase in the daily wage of private sector employees.

Since the major points of contention had been discussed in the previous Congress, Barinaga’s committee prioritized this measure and consolidated the two bills into HB 345. Last Oct. 26, the committee approved the bills for reporting to the House in an executive session.

After the committee report was registered and numbered by the Bills and Index Service, it was included in the Order of Business and referred to the House Committee on Rules. The latter schedules the bill for consideration on second reading.

However, Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles, the House Majority leader who chairs the Committee on Rules, is one of those who blocked the deliberations on the P125 bill, Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran said. The majority congressman argued that HB 345 is not a priority because it was not certified as urgent by the President.

Beltran also said that the authors of the bill filed a motion to refer the committee report to the plenary for second reading and in the Order of Business. In the latter, priority bills are first to be discussed, followed by Unfinished Business and then the Business of the Day. 

Last April 13, Beltran and Partido ng Manggagawa Party-list Rep. Renato Magtubo delivered their sponsorship speeches. Beltran also proposed to transfer the bill from Business for the Day to Unfinished Business.

Due to the strengthening mass movement and the consistent follow-up and bargaining with the opposing block, the House majority promised to calendar the second reading of HB 345 after the bill on the increase in the value-added tax (VAT).

Last April 26, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño told the plenary that Nograles made this promise on Feb. 28. But there were no signs that this promise would be fulfilled. During that session, Casiño’s inquiry on the status of the bill was answered with the session’s suspension from 5:09 p.m. to 6:38 p.m.

When the session resumed, there was already no quorum. The latter also happened in the sessions last May 3 and 4 which resulted in suspension. The May 2 session, meanwhile, was similarly suspended after the President declared it a special non-working day.

Beltran said that the House leadership's refusal to deliberate on the bill was “a grave insult and attack against workers all over the country. It's an outrage that the House rolls out the red carpet and extends itself to welcome visiting foreign dignitaries, but ignores the pleas of Filipino workers and even bans them from expressing their sentiments within the halls of Congress.”

Last May 9, Beltran reminded his colleagues that the authors of HB 345 agreed that plenary deliberations will start on May 11. On that day, however, House worked on the VAT bill until the wee hours of the night and passed it.

On June 7, Beltran and Barinaga objected to the deliberation of bills certified as urgent by the President. They asserted that HB 345 should already be put on second reading. Beltran argued that even if it was not a priority bill, it was in the Order of Business for five months already, considering that the bill has been up for second reading since January 17.

Still optimistic

Although the wage bill’s fate is uncertain, Beltran remains optimistic. He said that even in the interpellation on June 7, most of the points raised pertained to queries and adjustments.

One point raised came from Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte who asked if the payment of the P125 wage increase could be through installments – P75 on the first year and the remaining P50 on the next year. He also asked if the bill could consider the wage increases approved recently by various regional wage boards.

Meanwhile, Rep. Crispin Remulla expressed concern over the agriculture sector. Citing agriculture as the backbone of the economy, Remulla said that a legislated wage increase might result in a bigger problem if the agricultural enterprises could not bear the wage increase for agricultural workers.

Beltran explained that these queries could help in smoothening the debate on the wage increase, instead of just voting against the bill.

No choice but to deliberate?

In the opening of the second regular session on July 25, the House leadership could not refuse to deliberate on the wage bill since it is now part of the Unfinished Business from the first regular session, said Beltran, adding that even if it the bill gets rejected, they will refile it.

At present, there are 57 signatories to the bill. One hundred nineteen out of the 236 members of the House are needed to approve it.

If ever the bill is passed in Congress and the President would veto it, Beltran said that legislators, along with the workers and their families demanding for the increase, would take the issue to the streets.

“If that’s the case, it is now the mass movement that would really determine the outcome of the struggle for the wage increase as well as the President’s fate,” Beltran, chair emeritus of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU – May First Movement) said.

For the record

In the past the bill on the legislated wage increase met rough sailing in the House.

In 1999 during the 11th Congress, HB 1390 filed by Rep. Oscar Rodriguez and HB 8459 by Rep. Sergio Apostol embodied the petition of progressive labor organizations to grant a P125 ($2.26) across-the-board increase in the workers’ daily wages nationwide. In the Senate, Sen. Juan Flavier filed a similar bill, Senate Bill 1759.

The House Committee on Labor and Employment recommended that the entire House deliberate on the bill. However, the House leadership failed to calendar the bills.

Beltran, who became a member of the House in 2001 as Bayan Muna party-list representative, told Bulatlat that the failure to deliberate was the reflection of the position of the Estrada government, through the Department of Labor and Employment, not to grant any wage increase as requested by the employers, particularly the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP).

In the 12th Congress just five days after their proclamation, Beltran, along with other Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza, revived the bill by filing HB 2605 and filed HB 2606 seeking a P3,000 ($54.35) across-the-board salary increase to all public sector employees. It was followed by four other congressmen who filed HB 2623 with the same proposal.

The committee, upon deliberation of the two bills, came up with a consolidated bill numbered HB 4188 on June 10, 2002.

It was deliberated until the second reading through a plenary. However, after sponsorship speeches, the deliberation of the bill was stopped in favor of finalizing the General Appropriations Act.

Although the bill was archived at the end of the 12th Congress, the reelection of labor workers’ defenders gave a new hope for the long-awaited legislated wage increase. Bulatlat 

 

© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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