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 REMOLLINO
“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 relief.
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 P1,005 daily.
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 living.
Getting it was definitely not a walk in the park, and yet there remains a considerable obstacle to hurdle.
Repression and violence
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.
When Karapatan (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.
The repression against the Philippine labor sector this year has also taken forms less than physical but nevertheless equally damaging.
Arroyo’s declaration 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 light
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