Giving workers their fair share

IN an ideal world, when the minimum wage does not keep pace with inflation, a corresponding wage adjustment must be made. Automatically. The pay hike must allow low-wage workers to live above the poverty line. Filipino workers, however, do not live in an ideal world, much less in their desired work environment. Most of them do not even enjoy security of tenure.

This is unfortunate considering the economy’s continued growth, which is expected to further rise to 6.8 percent this year and 6.9 percent in 2019, from 6.7 percent in 2017. Sadly, economic boom means nothing for the low-wage workers who feel neglected. Part of the problem is that the government has allowed the erosion of the minimum wage for so long that it is now difficult to even consider bringing the wage floor up to a level that would allow low-wage workers to have a decent quality of life.

The Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, which stoked inflation that eroded most everyone’s buying power, magnified the situation. In view of the recent inflation surge, President Duterte ordered the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards in all 13 regions to intervene. The RTWPB is composed of representatives from the
government, employee and employer sectors.

Responding to the President’s order, two regional wage boards announced wage increases in their respective areas. The Region 6 wage board approved a P41.50 per day wage increase for nonagricultural workers, with the proviso that those working for companies with less than 10 employees will only get a pay hike of P23.50 per day. Agricultural workers in this region were given P13.50 increase in their daily pay. Meantime, the Region 7 wage board approved a P20 per day wage increase for those employed in Class A cities and municipalities, while those in Class B, C and D areas will get a pay hike of P15 per day.

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The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines said the new wage increase rates approved by the wage boards in Regions 6 and 7 do not lift workers out of extreme poverty level. ALU-TUCP Spokesman Alan Tanjusay said the segmentation of wage rates in Western Visayas is bound to create more poverty problems caused by migration of workers and their families. By granting segmented wage rates, he said, the two RTWPBs will create pressure for workers in poorer communities to migrate to more prosperous cities in hopes of landing jobs with higher pay. This, he added, will further exacerbate the problem of overpopulation in already crowded urban areas like Metro Manila.

The ALU-TUCP earlier asked for P800 daily across-the-board nationwide wage hike, saying this would restore workers’ purchasing power eaten up by inflation. The labor group said an average family of five members needs at least P1,200 a day to live decently.

As workers nationwide push for a higher minimum wage, many business leaders resist out of fear that their businesses will struggle with higher payroll costs. They say a minimum-wage hike now would harm businesses, especially small enterprises. Advocates for higher wages, however, say that RTWPB’s failure to intervene as soon as possible would allow employers to continue paying peanuts to workers whose purchasing power has been destroyed by surging inflation.

We hope the government will act with dispatch to find ideal solutions that strengthen poverty alleviation and social protection initiatives, especially in this regime of high inflation. There’s an urgent need to determine wage hikes that sufficiently meet the needs of the minimum-wage worker’s family. As the country’s economic pie continues to expand, we must give them their fair share.

 

 

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Turning Points 2018