May Day aid to extend to vulnerable sectors

Published by rudy Date posted on April 28, 2011

A LABOR DAY benefits package is still being finalized by Malacañang but will likely include assistance not just for workers but other vulnerable sectors of society, officials yesterday said.

“Hopefully they will be able to finalize them, and they will be presenting that to the president if not today then tomorrow (Friday),” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told Palace reporters, adding that green-lighted proposals will be “included in the speech of the President on Labor Day.”

Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad told BusinessWorld in a phone interview that they had proposed relief for low-income sectors hit hard by rising prices.

“It will be a combination of assistance, support and subsidies to be extended to government employees, urban poor and rural poor,” Mr. Abad said.

Pay hikes will not be part of the May 1 announcement, said Mr. Lacierda, as Mr. Aquino wants these to be decided by the regional wage boards.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cayetano W. Paderanga, in a separate phone interview, said: “If a wage adjustment is not possible, at least we have an assistance package to help the most vulnerable sectors of society.”

No price controls

The economic managers, who had met on Wednesday to discuss other measures to mitigate the impact of rising fuel prices, ruled out the imposition of price caps.

“Price controls will not be resorted to, unless there is an unusual price movement,” Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima said in a separate press conference yesterday.

The price hikes, though “painful,” are still “workable,” Mr. Paderanga said.

The government is instead looking at improving agricultural sector productivity help cushion inflationary pressures.

“The good harvest and the good weather has kept the price of rice very stable. In fact, in some areas, the price of rice has gone down because of an excess in supply,” Mr. Purisima said.

“Not only does this assure us of food security, but it helps control inflation because rice is a major component of the inflation basket.”

“In terms of power, we are increasing the composition of non-fuel based power by encouraging investment in gas and renewable energy,” Mr. Purisima added.

“At the same time, we’re trying to deal with the short term price pressures with the transportation subsidy.”

The government has already approved P450 million worth of assistance to the public transport sector via the issuance of smart cards that can be used to buy fuel.

Mr. Aquino is scheduled to present the final benefit package during a breakfast dialogue with labor groups, an event a militant trade union said it would boycott in favor of protest actions.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda D. Baldoz told reporters that among the groups attending the meeting were the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) and the Federation of Free Workers.

Wage hikes still needed

However, the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said it would be taking to the streets for what they’ve dubbed as the “Workless Day of Outrage.”

KMU executive vice-chairperson Lito Ustarez said his group was adamant that only a legislated P125 daily minimum wage increase would do.

To that end, the KMU is lobbying for the passage of two bills calling for a legislated wage increase: Senate Bill 1981 by Sen. Ramon A. Revilla, Jr. and House Bill 375 by Anakpawis party list Rep. Rafael V. Mariano.

The moderate TUCP, for its part, said it remained hopeful that the regional wage boards would soon issue an acceptable adjustment to daily minimum wages, among other benefits.

“We will start with [a] wage increase… we’re hoping that with Philippine Labor Employment Plan will have a radical effect on the incomes of workers because all these years, laborers’ income is stagnant, there’s no improvement in real terms,” spokesman Rafael E. Mapalo said.

He said the group wanted “better social protection, benefits from SSS (Social Security System), health insurance, improved safety and health programs at the workplace, [and] reproductive health at workplace.”

The TUCP last month asked the Metro Manila wage board to approve a P75 per day increase.

Employers nix pay hikes

The Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines (ECoP), meanwhile, said that it was prepared to negotiate on anything but a wage increase.

“The P125 increase has been filed since 1989. Since then how many wage increases has there been?’ ECoP President Edgardo G. Lacson asked.

“If you do this, there will be a 10.3% increase in inflation, 700,000 jobs will be lost, more than half a million companies will close shop — why enact something that will destroy the country?” he added.

“We already do things for employees like food subsidy, transport subsidy, clothing allowance, medical allowance, hospitalization, bonus — we don’t advertise it by nature because of the intense competition. If we advertise it, we will lose our competitive edge.”

If Malacañang were to announce other non-wage incentives, said Mr. Lacson, this should be approached on a sectoral and enterprise basis, unlike a one-size-fits-all wage order. — J. D. Poblete and D. C. J. Jiao, BUsinessworld

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