By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter
THE GOVERNMENT should review the country’s wage-setting process, provide more public sector jobs and ensure workers can form trade unions peacefully, labor groups demanded on Monday, Labor Day.
“Jobs generation should be the centerpiece of policy-making,” Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa Secretary-General (SENTRO) Josua T. Mata said in a Viber message.
He said a “robust public employment program” is needed “to ensure that we attain full employment as mandated by the Constitution.”
More than 10,000 workers from trade unions flocked to the streets of Mendiola in the capital Manila for a united stance on International Workers’ Day, according to the All Philippine Trade Unions, an alliance of Philippine labor groups.
“We are also calling on the government to junk the regional wage setting mechanism and replace it with a national minimum wage that should progressively be raised towards a living wage,” he said.
Minimum wage rates in the Philippines are set by region through tripartite boards composed of representatives from the workers sector, employers sector, and government.
Every wage order approved by a Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board, based on economic indicators and other related factors, is subject to a final concurrence by the secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE).
The Philippines is divided into 17 regions.
In a separate statement, the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) reiterated its call for a P750 increase to the minimum wage in Metro Manila to help workers in the capital region cope with inflation.
“It is time for our government to address the increasingly precarious work conditions that millions of contractual workers are facing today,” said Luke Espiritu, president of the BMP.
In March, the Unity for Wage Increase Now! (UWIN) sought to raise the P570 daily minimum wage in Metro Manila to P1,100. The region’s wage board approved a P33 minimum wage hike in June last year.
Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri earlier filed a bill seeking to raise the minimum wage for private sector workers by P150.
The Makabayan bloc had also proposed a wage hike at the House of Representatives, seeking a P750 hike for all private sector workers, those working in special economic zones, freeports and in the agricultural sector.
Farmer groups on Monday brought to attention the wage discrimination against agricultural workers and called for the adoption of a national minimum wage.
Ariel B. Casilao, acting chairperson of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), said agricultural workers in most regions have a lower minimum wage rate compared to their industrial counterparts.
“How would the country’s agriculture be boosted if our own government looks down on peasants who make up the democratic majority of the population,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Casilao noted that the average daily pay of a farm worker stood between P70 – P350 as their group demanded an “across-the board hike” of P750 to earn a family living wage.
UMA spokesperson John Milton Lozande said a genuine agrarian reform program is also needed to address land grabbing that force farmers into wage work.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas urged farm workers to engage and participate in demanding genuine land reform.
“The combined strength of farmers asserting genuine agrarian reform across the country and workers demanding for wages, jobs, and democratic rights can achieve more gains for the toiling masses and all Filipino working people,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said in a statement.
Sonny A. Africa, executive director of think tank Ibon Foundation, said the low wages for agricultural workers stem from the “persistently low agricultural productivity.”
He also noted that most of the employment set up in the agricultural sector are “very informal” and “non-wage basis.”
“This agricultural and overall economic backwardness is due to the government’s long-standing neglect of agricultural and industrial development for the country,” he told BusinessWorld in a Viber message.
In 2021, fisherfolk and farmers had the highest poverty incidence rates at 30.6% and 30%, respectively, according to preliminary data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority.
“The most immediate measure, however, is to have a national minimum wage that raises wages nationwide to more decent levels,” Mr. Africa said.
He said most companies can afford to give higher wages while the government can provide subsidies for micro and small enterprises.
“The government’s strategy of using low wages to supposedly attract foreign investment and without meaningful agricultural or industrial policy is deeply counterproductive,” he added.
Labor Secretary Bienvenido E. Laguesma, in an interview with One News on Monday, said the DoLE will continue providing financial aid and skills training programs for workers, while regional wage boards assess wage petitions.
DoLE on Sunday and Monday held job fairs nationwide and provided over P1.88 billion in cash aid to beneficiaries of its employment program for displaced workers.
“Wage hikes are not rushed since we need to consider the situation of most micro and small enterprises,” Mr. Laguesma said in Filipino.
Headline inflation likely slowed within the 6.3-7.1% range in April due to lower food, gas and electricity prices, slower than the 7.6% in March, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said in a statement on April 28.
The Philippine jobless rate in February went up by 4.3% month on month to 2.48 million. Job quality improved that month as underemployment, a measure of Filipinos seeking more work, fell to 12.9% from 14.1% in January and 14% a year earlier.
Meanwhile, Renato B. Magtubo, chairman of Partido Manggagawa, reiterated that the state should look into cases of violence, red-tagging and extralegal killings against union organizers.
“The government should adhere to the recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) High-Level Tripartite Mission aimed at protecting, promoting and fulfilling workers’ freedom of association,” he said in a Viber message.
A team of ILO representatives visited the Philippines in February and met with trade union organizers and government officials to discuss reported human rights violations against workers.
In a joint report submitted to the ILO, Philippine trade unions said the state has consistently failed to comply with ILO conventions on freedom of association and the right to organize.
President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Sunday signed an executive order creating an inter-agency body that will investigate labor rights violations against trade unionists.
Mr. Magtubo also said that the government should address the plight of those working in contractual labor and ensure their security of tenure. — with Sheldeen Joy Talavera