Saturday, April 30, 2011

The ‘good news’ workers want to hear

The ‘good news’ workers want to hear*

Anjo C. Alimario, Researcher
April 30, 2011

Today is President Aquino’s first May 1 as president, a day when thousands of workers from various labor organizations and unions all over the country traditionally converge, carrying their sentiments to the government to prioritize their rights and welfare.

But even with the changing of the guard from the nine-year rule of the Arroyo administration, Filipino workers say they see not much difference with the current labor situation in the country. In fact, they say it’s much worse with the skyrocketing of the prices of basic goods.

As more than 30,000 workers meet in Metro Manila and with more than 100,000 others in the provinces staging their own mobilizations, based on the estimates of Anakpawis Partylist, they are one in saying that President Aquino should review his economic policies to include the workers’ interests.

“If he is really serious in hearing out our concerns, he needs to prioritize on his labor agenda the much-needed wage hike,” Joel Maglunsod, Anakpawis executive vice president, said in Filipino in a recent interview with the BusinessMirror.

In the headquarters of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in Intramuros, Manila, members of Anakpawis will deliver a large envelope containing the “good news” of what the people want to hear from the President—a P125 legislated wage increase, the repeal of the oil-deregulation law and value-added tax on oil, control of oil prices and commodities, adequate work and the repeal of contractualization.

According to the explanatory note of the pending House Bill 375, or P125 Daily Across-the-Board Wage Increase Act, under Republic Act 6727, or the Wage Rationalization Act of 1989, the task of studying fixing and raising of wages was given to the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards (RTWPB).

The minimum wage differs from one region to another, and further differentiated according to locality, industry and employment size—standards set arbitrarily by the wage boards, it added.

“P-Noy will pass the issue on wage hike to the regional wage boards, but in the 22-year existence of the wage boards, it does not meet the workers’ needs—just providing meager wage increases. The P26 given is the highest in history,” Maglunsod emphasized.

What remains clear, as argued by the authors of the bill, is that minimum wages have remained grossly inadequate to support decent living standards after more than a decade of wage rationalization. “This highlights the failure of the government to provide economic relief for workers toward securing a living wage as mandated by the Constitution,” the paper read.

A symbol of workers’ demand

It was in the 13th Congress when the Committee on Labor and Employment, headed by Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Roseller Barinaga, was able to finalize House Bill (HB) 345 and registered the bill for plenary debate. The bill reached third and final readings.

On December 22, 2006, it was approved by the House through a majority vote and by rights the bill was passed.

But the bill could only reach that stage for it was recalled due to “blatant manipulation and disregard of the House rules.” It has taken more than seven years for the P125 legislated wage-increase bill to reach the level that it did in the 13th Congress.

In the following Congress, the bill was refiled as HB 1722. Despite the strong nationwide clamor for economic relief and constant lobbying of workers, the measure did not go any further after a single hearing in 2008.

The P125 legislated wake-hike demand has been recognized as a symbol of the Filipino workers’ united demand for economic relief. “Now, almost 11 years after, this fight for the granting of a legislated increase remains valid more than ever,” the statement read.

After the May 2010 elections, the RTWPB, under the DOLE, announced the granting of a P22 daily wage increase for workers in the National Capital Region (NCR). This hike increased the wage from P382 to P404 in the NCR, which is the last wage increase granted by former President Arroyo.

As of July 2010, the P404 minimum wage in the NCR has a shortfall of P553 against the estimated P957 family living wage. Moreover, the purchasing power of peso has been constantly eroded due to inflation.

The current family wage estimate is likely already twice the daily minimum wage and a P125 wage increase will not even make up for inflation that has eroded real incomes over the last three years, as stated in the paper.

“The fact is the additional P125 is not enough. With the estimate in the cost of living here in Metro Manila at P957 per day, you add P125 to P404 minimum wage, P529 is not even enough,” Maglunsod said.

The note emphasized that business owners’ age-old alibi that wage hikes would result in layoffs, cost-cutting measures and ultimate shutdown of companies was proved to be nothing more than “a blackmail excuse” to deprive workers of a much-needed wage increase.

Inflation argument

The argument that a wage increase will be inflationary is also disproved by the fact that labor costs comprise no more than 11 percent of the production costs on the average in all industries.

According to IBON Foundation, the net income of the top 1,000 corporations in the country soared from P116.4 billion in 2001 to P756 billion in 2009.

In a study by the Ecumenical Institute for Labor and Education Research (EILER) in the manufacturing sector, the share of the workers from the net incomes of companies decreases yearly, while company owners bloat their profits.

Based on the DOLE data in 2007, there are 1.8 million unionized workers that account for 5 percent of the total work force of 36 million. Of this number, only 242,000 workers are covered by existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Workers covered by CBA represent only 0.7 percent of the total employed work force, 1.4 percent of wage and salary workers and 12.4 percent of total union members.

Anakpawis data show that as of last year, only 1.7 million out of 19.5 million wage and salary workers are organized under unions. This is less than half of the 3.85 million unionized workers in 2001, and the figures continue to deplete.

During the first months of President Aquino’s term, the last waves of meager wage increases by the Arroyo administration through the wage boards were implemented: P22 in the NCR, P15 in Region VI, P18 in Region VII, P13 and P12 cost of living allowance (Cola) integration in Region X, P21 in Region XI, P10 and P10 Cola integration in Region XIII, and P12 in the ARMM.

“Aquino is about to start his first round of convening the wage boards next month. It took Aquino almost a year, despite severe price hikes, to finally do something on wage hike. But Anakpawis Partylist is wary that his first move on wages will only kill the hopes for a substantial wage hike, since it will again be coursed through the wage boards, and not through legislation, which what Anakpawis Partylist’s House Bill 375 is all about,” the group said in its brief.

Since the creation of regional wage boards under the term of his mother in 1989, no more than a P26 increase was granted in a year. The average yearly increase granted for the past 22 years in the NCR is only P10.75.

According to the EILER study, wages are eroding so fast under the Aquino administration, that the real wage value eroded by negative 7 in only the first six months of Mr. Aquino.

In 2001 the real value of minimum wage, using year 2000 as base prices, is P237. In June 2010 real wage meagerly increased to P242. In February 2011, or after just eight months under the new administration, real value of minimum wage declined to P235.

‘Worst in history’

The unemployment rate for 2010, according to IBON, stands at 11.6 percent —“the worst in history,” the group noted.

While the number of unemployed increases, the more people become desperate and vulnerable to repressive working conditions. The group added that the Aquino administration still uses the distorted categorization of employment started by Arroyo in April 2005, where people who do not look for work anymore are excluded from the labor force, thereby shrinking artificially the unemployment rate.

“So the government always reports lesser unemployment rate,” the group added.

With 35 million Filipinos employed reported by the government, the figure already includes 4.22 million “unpaid family workers” and 12.16 million “own account workers.”

“The announcement from DOLE on Labor Day is the purported distribution of jobs in large job fairs. But the distribution of temporary jobs and irregular in nature does not solve poverty, and if mass layoffs and contractualization will always be permitted,” Maglunsod said.

On the issue of workers’ rights, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights 2010 data reveal that there are many forms of civil and political rights violations observed under the present administration that include killing, frustrated/attempted killing, physical assault, grave threat and coercion, among others.

There were 68 documented cases with 1,361 victims, of which 103 were women. And six were killed under the current administration, where three labor leaders were murdered this year. The latest was Santos Manrique, Federation of Mineworkers Association president, on April 12 in Compostela Valley.

“If the good news coming from the present administration in essence would not involve lifting the livelihood of the people, then people can only expect bad news from the Aquino administration,” Maglunsod declared.

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