Sunday, January 13, 2008

UNIONS TO STEP UP CAMPAIGN FOR P125 WAGE HIKE

Labor federations and unions under the banner of the KMU are entering 2008 by upping the ante in the continuing campaign for an old, still-unheeded demand -– a legislated P125 across-the-board, nationwide wage increase.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
LABOR WATCH
Vol. VII, No. 48, January 13-19, 2008


Labor federations and unions under the banner of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement) are entering 2008 by upping the ante in the continuing campaign for an old, still-unheeded demand –- a legislated P125 across-the-board, nationwide wage increase.

The demand for a P125 wage increase was first put forward by the KMU in 1999, nearly a year into the presidency of Joseph Estrada who won the 1998 presidential elections on an avowed populist “platform.”

Back then, the average family living wage for a family of six –- the average Filipino family –- was P379.51 ($9.71 at the year’s average exchange rate of $1:P39.09) a day on a national average, based on data from the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC). In contrast, the daily minimum wage stood at a national average of P193.67 ($4.95).

A P125 wage increase at that time would have brought the national average minimum wage to P318.67 ($8.15), or P60.84 short of the national average family living wage that year.

The Estrada administration, which ascended to power on the basis of a proclaimed love for the “Filipino masses,” never paid heed to this demand of the KMU.

Estrada was ousted in 2001 through a popular uprising that was largely anti-corruption. He was succeeded by his vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

After Estrada

The demand for a P125 wage increase was among the items in the “People’s Agenda” that cause-oriented groups presented to Arroyo during her first days in office.

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 that year’s average exchange rate of $1:P40.89), 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.

Nearly seven years after first assuming power, the Arroyo administration has yet to heed this demand of the KMU.

The national average family living wage has risen by more than P125 since 2001. But it hardly made a dent in the gap between the minimum wage and the required family living wage, as the increases that came in trickles were fast eaten up by runaway inflation. Based on December 2007 data from the NWPC, the national average family living wage for a family of six stands at P670 ($14.52 at last year’s average exchange rate of $1:P46.15) a day.

The highest regional minimum wage at present is P362 ($8.92 at the Jan. 10 exchange rate of $1:P40.60) for the National Capital Region (NCR), which has a regional daily family living wage of P806 ($19.85).

The region with the lowest minimum wage rate is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), with only P200 ($4.92). It has a regional daily family living wage of P1096 ($27).

But the KMU holds on to the demand for a P125 wage increase. “This is to stress that our demand for a legislated wage increase is a long-standing but long-unheeded one,” said Wilson Baldonaza, KMU secretary-general, in an interview with Bulatlat.

Baldonaza said the KMU and its affiliated federations and unions will be actively campaigning for Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Crispin Beltran’s House Bill No. 1722, which provides for a P125 across-the-board, nationwide wage increase for private-sector workers.

Beltran is a former KMU chairman, and he has been in the forefront of the campaign for a legislated P125 wage increase since way back in 1999. During his three terms as representative, Beltran was able to file three bills for a legislated minimum wage hike. He first filed a wage-hike bill in 2001, as a representative of Bayan Muna (People First). It never did go beyond first reading.

The second, HB 345 –- which Beltran filed as Anakpawis representative -– was approved at the plenary of the House of Representatives by a vote of 151-0 on Dec. 20, 2006. Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada -– son of Arroyo’s predecessor -– was sponsoring a counterpart bill at that time.

The next month, however, HB 345 was recalled upon a motion filed by Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, purportedly to allow further debate and deliberation. Malacañang supported this move of the House of Representatives, and the younger Estrada deferred sponsorship of the counterpart Senate bill.

If HB 345 had not been recalled and its counterpart Senate bill was also passed, the national average minimum wage would have gone up to P408.67 ($7.96 at that year’s average exchange rate of $1:P51.31). But that would have still been short of what the family of six would need on a national average to survive daily, based on 2006 data from the NWPC.

HB 1722

The KMU enters this year by stepping up the campaign for the passage of Beltran’s HB 1722.

Baldonaza said KMU members in the country’s various regions would be lobbying before their respective district representatives for the passage of HB 1722 –- a tactic which the KMU is trying for the first time.

“We recognize, however, that lobbying work becomes effective as a means of applying pressure only when the mass movement is strong,” Baldonaza said.

Baldonaza added that the KMU would be forming an alliance specifically for the campaign for a wage increase. The alliance, he said, would go by the name Unions for 125. “All unions are welcome to join that alliance so long as they support the demand for a P125 wage increase,” he said.

The KMU leader said the P125 wage hike campaign should be expected to reach its peak by May 1 this year. Bulatlat

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