A Step Forward in Wage
Fight, amid Repression and Violence
The approval of the
P125 wage increase bill by the Lower House is welcome news for workers,
who could use even just a little relief from soaring prices of basic goods
and services amid rock-bottom income. It is a gain that came at the price
of trade union repression and political killings that victimized labor
leaders among others.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN
“The P125 wage
(hike) bill has finally been approved by the House on third reading at
past 8 tonight by a vote of 151-0!”
Bayan Muna (People
First) Rep. Teddy Casiño, a former staff of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or
May 1st Movement), was evidently elated as he sent around this
text message barely three hours before midnight on Dec. 20. And he had
reason to rejoice: The bill providing for a P125 across-the-board,
nationwide wage increase to private-sector workers had, after all, been
pending at the House of Representatives since 2001.
The bill’s main
sponsor, Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Crispin Beltran, was no less
elated, and for equally good reason.
“This is a victory
for all Filipino workers who have campaigned long and hard for the passage
of this bill,” Beltran said in a statement issued from his room at the
Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City, where he has been confined for 10
months under police custody. “This is recognition for all their efforts.”
Beltran has been
mightily leading the campaign for the passage of the bill as early as
1999, when the KMU – of which he used to be the chairperson – first made
the call for a legislated P125 across-the-board, nationwide wage increase.
It was he who, as a Bayan Muna representative, introduced the bill at the
House in 2001.
That the P125 wage
increase bill has finally been approved at the House is indeed welcome
news for workers, who have for several years been reeling from low income
amid continually rising prices of good and services. Though P125 is no
longer enough to bridge the gap between income and costs of living,
considering how the prices of prime commodities have jumped since 2001,
the working segment of the population can nevertheless use even a little
Based on data from
the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), the daily living
wage for a family of six – the average Filipino family – now stands at a
national average of P674.93 ($13.70 based on an exchange rate of
$1:P49.28) as of October 2006. Of the country’s 15 regions, the Autonomous
Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has the highest family living wage, with
Conversely, the daily
minimum wage has been standing at a national average of P283.67 since
mid-2005, NWPC data further show. The ARMM has the lowest daily minimum
wage at P170 – a difference of P835 from its daily family living wage as
of October 2006.
The required living
wage for an average Filipino family was in 2001 a far cry from what it is
now. That year, it stood at a national average of P445.53 ($10.89 at an
exchange rate of $1:P40.89 in 2001), based on data from the NWPC. The
highest regional minimum wage then was in the National Capital Region
(NCR), which was pegged at P250. At a national average, however, the daily
minimum wage that year stood at P222.42, based on data from the Department
of Labor and Employment (DoLE).
Even then, a P125
across-the-board, nationwide wage increase would have been insufficient to
bridge the gap between the minimum wage and the required family living
wage. An additional P125 would have brought up the 2001 daily minimum wage
to P347.42 – which is P98.11 short of what an average Filipino family
needed to survive daily that year.
Should the P125 wage
increase bill fare as well in the Senate as it did in the House of
Representatives, the national average family living wage will go up to
P408.67. That would still be P266.26 short of what the family of six would
need on a national average to survive daily, based on October 2006 data
from the NWPC.
Just the same, this
would be tantamount to relief that workers could very well use. That would
still be a significant narrowing of the gap between income and costs of
Getting it was
definitely not a walk in the park, and yet there remains a considerable
obstacle to hurdle.
The passage of the
wage increase bill by the House can also be seen as a political move by
the administration-dominated chamber, given that President Macapagal-Arroyo’s
political allies led by Speaker Jose de Venecia suffered a monumental
setback in their unilateral move to revise the 1987 Constitution. The
charter-change (cha-cha) has been popularly perceived as being
politically-motivated and its aim was to perpetuate Macapagal-Arroyo and
administration allies in Congress in power.
The workers’ gain in
their campaign for a legislated wage increase came at the price of trade
union repression which took many forms – not the least of which was
outright physical violence against a number of labor leaders.
The passage of the
P125 wage hike bill at the House came less than a fortnight after the
killing of Jesus Servida, a union leader at the EMI-Yazaki factory in
Cavite, south of Manila.
(Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) presented its 2006 Human
Rights Report last Dec. 1, it listed 797 victims of extrajudicial killings
from 2001 – when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted to power
through a popular uprising – to November 2006. Of these, 185 were killed
from January to November 2006.
In terms of the
number of victims, the top three sectors for January-November 2006 were
the peasantry, the labor sector, and the professionals. Of the 185
documented victims for the said period, 104 were peasants, 28 were workers
and 20 were professionals (mostly lawyers and teachers).
Servida is the 29th
worker killed this year alone and the 74th worker to be slain
under the Arroyo administration, based on combined data from Karapatan and
the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR). Karapatan and the
CTUHR have also recorded four cases of torture of workers from January to
November 2006. Likewise, the two groups documented eight violent
dispersals of rallies involving workers and trade unionists for the same
period – a jump from one last year.
against the Philippine labor sector this year has also taken forms less
than physical but nevertheless equally damaging.
of a “State of Emergency” on February 24 this year, on the basis of a
purported Left-Right conspiracy to overthrow the present administration,
took its toll on the labor movement, with Beltran being arrested the very
next day after its declaration. With Beltran’s arrest and subsequent
detention, the labor movement saw the legislative work of one of its
staunchest advocates being derailed.
In several areas in
the country, mere membership in the KMU made workers targets for
harassment. Several workers’ groups particularly in Central Luzon and in
Mindanao reported being harassed by military and police. They reported
about their leaders being stopped and interrogated for long hours by
soldiers and policemen, and of being told that their “troubles” would stop
only if they disaffiliated from the KMU. Karapatan and CTUHR data showed
cases of intimidation and surveillance against workers and trade unionists
to have increased by almost 73 percent from last year.
Still, a ray of
With all that the
Philippine labor sector experienced in 2006, there almost seems to be no
room for bright thoughts. Filipino workers seemed to have been losing an
uphill battle this year.
Still, there is a ray
of light. The gain that workers achieved in the push for better wages,
while still partial, is nevertheless significant. The passage of the P125
wage hike bill at the House meant one less hurdle to overcome in the wage
fight – and a foreshadowing of what may be achieved through determined
efforts amid the odds. Bulatlat
PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION ■
© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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