No chance for Labor Day wage hike

Published by rudy Date posted on April 5, 2011

WORKERS should not count on an announcement of an increase in daily minimum wages this May 1, as the procedure prescribed for reaching this decision leaves very little time to do so by that date, an official of the agency overseeing the process hinted in an interview yesterday.

Asked if wage hike announcements are to be expected on Labor Day, Ciriaco A. Lagunzad III, executive director of the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), said, “We will see. The (Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity) Boards [RTWPBs] will make that decision.”

He explained that the regional boards will first have to settle whether there is a “supervening condition” — such as an unusual sustained increase in prices of basic goods and services — before they can start public hearings on possible wage increases on their own, even without a formal petition and before the one-year prescriptive period from the last wage order lapses.

The Labor department’s Web site showed the latest round of increases in daily minimum wage started with Metro Manila on July 1 last year, with the latest wage order taking effect just last Feb. 16 in the Cagayan Valley.

“Once they’ve done that, they can do public hearings and will later on make a decision,” Mr. Lagunzad said.

“Last year, on average, the boards took 30-45 days to make a decision; that is, from the time a supervening condition is determined up to the time a decision has been made,” he added.

Mr. Lagunzad said regional boards are constantly monitoring factors that could constitute “supervening conditions.”

“Actually, three months ago, we gave instructions to the boards to monitor changes in prices, especially now that oil prices are very high,” he said.

“Inflation in some regions, such as Region II (Cagayan Valley), Region XI (Southern Mindanao), Caraga and the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) have gone beyond the 5% upper limit of the BSP’s [Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas] inflation target,” he added, referring to the central bank’s 3%-5% range for this year.

“They take all these things into consideration and then make the decision whether or not to start consultations on a wage hike.”

The National Statistics Office said on Tuesday that the inflation rate came in the lower end of the central bank’s 4%-5% projection for March, remaining at the 4.3% level recorded in February. But this was still the highest rate since May last year, which also recorded 4.3%. The regional inflation breakdown was not immediately available.

Sought for comment, Rafael E. Mapalo, spokesman of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, said that regional boards should automatically review minimum wage rates when inflation accelerates. “It’s not enough [for wage hikes] to restore lost purchasing power. Adjustments should include some amounts to increase workers’ standard of living,” he said by phone yesterday.

In a press briefing yesterday, Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ricky A. Carandang reiterated that any wage hike would be the regional boards’ call.

“I think the wage increase issue will be taken up by the wage boards at the appropriate time,” Mr. Carandang said. “Let’s leave it to the wage boards to decide whether there should be wage increases — what the economy can bear, balancing the needs of labor with the concerns of management, and general macroeconomic concerns.” — N. R. Melican, Businessworld

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