Aquino to employers: Raise workers’ pay

Published by rudy Date posted on May 6, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—The country’s top employers can afford to grant a pay increase to minimum-wage workers, President Benigno Aquino III said Thursday.

The President suggested that employers also grant workers profit-sharing or productivity-incentive schemes, something which he said he had been espousing since he was still a member of Congress.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the 32nd National Conference of Employers at the Marriott Hotel in Pasay City, Mr. Aquino reiterated the need for a pay increase, which he supported on Labor Day as a relief from soaring fuel and food prices.

He made the call a day after the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), which organized the conference, said the best offer it could give workers was P13.35 in daily wage increase.

Mere change

As expected, organized labor said the amount would not alleviate workers’ sufferings. The militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), which is seeking a P125 daily wage increase, called on the employers not to be stingy.

“Workers are not children that can be pacified with candy. P13 is mere change thrown in the way of workers,” said the Partido ng Manggagawa, another militant group, which is demanding a P50 wage increase.

The moderate Trade Union Congress of the Philippines is pushing for a P75 increase in the daily minimum wage.

On Sunday, Mr. Aquino ordered the regional tripartite wage boards to fast-track deliberations on wage increase petitions filed by labor groups nationwide.

The President said that he expected minimum-wage workers in Metro Manila to get their wage hike by next week, and those in other regions within the month.

Strengthen purchasing power

Mr. Aquino sought the wage adjustment even after he heard the president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Francis Chua, telling the conference that a wage increase was “not the only solution” to helping workers during these hard times.

Chua suggested raising the workers’ standard of living by “increasing their purchasing power,” among other measures.

In his speech, Mr. Aquino said the government had been “burning the midnight oil” so it could create a good business environment.

He said it had been “successful so far,” as shown by “a surge of confidence” in the country’s economic prospects. This confidence, he said, was partly due to the country’s able fiscal management.

“But even as we create an environment conducive to business growth, I know that some of you have concerns about possible increases after I urged the wage boards to expedite rulings on the petitions of the labor unions,” he said.

Balancing concerns

But the President said the job of the Palace was to balance the sometimes competing concerns of workers and employers.

“What we have offered to labor is not necessarily harmful to your interests,” he said in reference to the wage increase to be given by wage boards nationwide.

He said the Palace had no intention of asking Congress to legislate an across-the-board increase in wages.

“But the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas does believe that certain wage adjustments through the regional wage boards can be absorbed by the economy,” the President said.

He asked employers not to look at this as a threat.

“Just imagine: In a few years, our population will undoubtedly continue to grow. Can you imagine if that growth in population were coupled with an enhanced purchasing power? Can you imagine if more Filipinos had jobs that could afford them more than just their basic need?” the President said.

Boon to business

He said an economy such as what he had described would be “a boon to your businesses.”

In a statement, KMU chair Elmer Labog said ECOP’s complaint that it was suffering because of the high cost of fuel and energy was more believable than its claim that giving workers just wages would result in inflation and the closure of companies.

“The employers are now admitting that they too are affected by the fuel price
hikes. So, they should join the fight against fuel price increase instead of being stingy in giving wages,” Labog said.

Higher productivity

The chair of the Partido ng Manggagawa, Renato Magtubo, said employers owed workers at least P50 due to lost purchasing power and unpaid shares in increased productivity.

“Capitalists are again trying to short change workers. Despite the minimum-wage increases granted, workers (in Metro Manila) still have P25 to regain in depleted purchasing power since year 2000 and another P25 as their share in improved productivity since last year,” he said.

The loss in purchasing power was computed by the Partido ng Manggagawa using the 171.5 consumer price index (CPI) as of April 2011. The base figure of the CPI in 2000 was 100 and the minimum wage that year was P250, according to the labor group.

It arrived at P25 in unpaid productivity share using the P2.43 trillion in gross domestic product last year, the 7.3 percent in annual GDP increase and the number of wage and salaried workers, pegged at 19.3 million.

Partido ng Manggagawa asked the Metro Manila wage board to grant the P75 wage petition as “immediate relief” for the workers.

Cost of living for family

The group said its study showed that the cost of living for a family of six in Metro Manila was about P1,010 per day.

Both Magtubo and Labog disputed employers’ claims that they can only afford a P13-increase due to the high fuel and energy costs.

“Despite the fuel price increase, the profits of the capitalists remain substantial. They should fight the price increases of basic goods and services and at the same time grant meaningful wages,” Labog said.

He denounced ECOP for citing 400 Japanese companies in Southern Tagalog that shut down to justify its position.

“Those Japanese companies experienced difficulties due to the triple disasters that struck Japan and not because they could not afford the high wages of the workers. What happened to these companies should not be used by ECOP to blackmail workers. Most companies in the Philippines remain viable,” he added.

5 cups of gourmet coffee

Magtubo countered ECOP’s warning of the “dire impact” of a P75 wage hike.

“To illustrate, a gas station owner with 10 gas attendants will fork out only P750 more in wages per day, equivalent to the cost of five cups of gourmet coffee. It will hardly dent the lifestyle of even a small capitalist but it will go a long way to feed, house, heal and school a worker’s family,” he said.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz told reporters that Mr. Aquino’s pitch for profit-sharing was to send “a message that for those who can afford, the profits would have to be shared with the workers.”

Virtue of dialog

In his speech, the President also sought harmonious relations between labor and management and suggested the revival of the “virtue of dialog—of sitting down and ironing out our differences without resorting to stifling our productivity with what can be reduced to needless and directionless bickering.”

“If we keep tempers from flaring prematurely, and if we can approach every problem while keeping in mind that we are fighting the same battle for a better Philippines, then we will be stronger for it,” Mr. Aquino said. –Christine O. Avendaño, Jerome Aning, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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