Children appear to be praying and thanking God for food on their table (Photo: Pinterest)
Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.
— African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass
INITIALLY, labor secretary Silvestre Bello III announced last week that he has ordered all regional wage boards to study the possibility of an increase in the daily minimum wage, after noting that “the buying capacity of workers has been affected” by skyrocketing prices of basic commodities.
Bello directed the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards to submit their recommendation by the end of next month. Senator Panfilo ‘Ping’ Lacson backed the call for this “very timely” review of wages to help workers cope with the surging costs of fuel and basic goods amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Workers have agreed that something has to be done about the minimum wage, which was last adjusted more than three years ago. However, they are not that hopeful about Bello’s latest pronouncements, describing “the regional wage boards as useless” and adding “they have been sleeping on the job in the past three years.”
Rene Magtubo of the labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) is now pushing a countermeasure instead that asks Congress to pass a law mandating a ₱100 across-the-board wage increase.
The group’s additional demands include cash aid, discounts, and programs for the creation of emergency jobs.
Accordingly, three years are indeed too long for wages to remain stagnant and as workers’ groups have pointed out, data from the National Wages and Productivity Commission show that, when adjusted for inflation since 2018, the ₱537 minimum wage in Metro Manila was worth only ₱494 as of February 2022.
In reality, minimum wage and low-income earners in Metro Manila last received a wage increase in October 2018, while those in the Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon (Calabarzon) region got theirs in February the same year. The most recent minimum wage hike was granted in Cagayan Valley on February 4, 2020.
Wages outside the metropolis, which range from a low of ₱290 in the Bangsamoro region to ₱420 in Central Luzon, are much lower since policymakers consider the cost of living in those areas as being cheaper. At current prices, these salary levels are truly insufficient and unjust and workers have tagged them as ‘starvation wages’.
A daily wage earner in Metro Manila working 22 days a month (assuming two days off each week) gets only ₱11,814, well below the ₱12,082 poverty threshold for a family of five as of June 2021.
The poverty threshold is defined by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) as the minimum income necessary to meet basic food and non-food needs such as clothing, housing, transportation, health, and education expenses.
No wonder more Filipinos were driven into poverty in the first half of 2021.
Based on the results of the First Semester 2021 Official Poverty Statistics conducted every three years by the PSA, poverty incidence—or the proportion of Filipinos whose incomes fell below the per capita poverty threshold—stood at 23.7 percent, from 21.1 percent recorded in the first half of 2018.
That latest figure translates to an additional 3.87 million individuals joining the ranks of the poor in the first half of 2021. The total number of poor Filipinos as of June last year: 26.14 million, or about a quarter of the country’s population.
In the wage-setting process, however, the government must also consider the position of employers, many of whom were adversely affected by the economic recession caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, many business establishments, from small enterprises to huge conglomerates, had to lay off tens of thousands of workers to cut on their operational costs and keep their companies afloat and barely surviving.
And it must be noted that legislating wage increases also has its drawbacks. For one, the entire legislative process takes time and any adjustment may come too late. Congress could show its support for workers better by enacting laws that will protect their interests, such as ensuring their security of tenure and pushing for an end to contractualization—an unredeemed campaign promise by President Duterte.
And now the labor department is pushing for another questionable proposal, that of a four-day working week that aims, it said, to cushion the adverse impact of soaring oil prices on low-income workers.
The agency explained that the move would help ordinary workers save on transport costs which it is feared could increase by more than 50 percent.
Bello clarified that the proposal for a four-day workweek would depend on the nature of the work to save costs in terms of fares, food, and other basic expenses. This arrangement, he said, could only be temporary depending on the price of fuel.
With this proposal, however, it appears that the labor chief is unaware of the realities on the ground. He seems to be floating away from realizing the true situation being experienced by our labor sector.
It’s highly probable that unknown to Bello, most workers now or being paid salaries based on a ‘no work, no pay’ policy, so subtracting one more day would mean a day more of earning taken from their wages.
I used to receive a monthly salary big enough for my family but when the pandemic struck and health safety restrictions were imposed, that salary was almost drastically cut in half after my employer decided to pay my wages based on a ‘no work, no pay’ policy.
I question now why our good president Rodrigo Roa Duterte has allowed the people, whom he professes to emphatize with, to suffer the consequences brought about the incompetence of his underlings?
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