Labor warns protests may lead to calls for Noy ouster

Published by rudy Date posted on May 2, 2011

Thousands of workers and activists took to the streets yesterday to protest the government’s labor export policy and to demand higher wages amid rising prices of basic commodities as a major labor group said the series of protests may lead to the possibility of targeting the ouster of President Aquino.

The Aquino regime should heed Labor Day’s warning signal. If it fails to act now to uphold the interests of the Filipino workers and people, it will face ever-growing protests and the possibility of being the target of an ouster movement, according to the Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1 movement).

Carrying slogans and banners criticizing the government, the marchers accused President Aquino of reneging on his campaign promise last year to raise the living standards of the country’s workforce.

They also demanded an end to the government’s policy of sending workers overseas. An estimated nine million Filipinos work abroad and their millions in dollar remittances have traditionally buoyed up the economy.

“All of Aquino’s announcements are literally ‘spare change’ to appease workers,” said Vencer Crisostomo, chairman of the group Anakbayan, after Aquino ignored a demand for a nationwide increase in monthly minimum wages.

“For the past several years, the government has always made a show of holding Labor Day job fairs. But why do many Filipinos still go overseas to look for greener pastures, even at their own risk?,” Crisostomo added.

It’s because these job fairs do not solve the problem of low wages in locally based jobs.”

The largest May Day protest took place in Manila, but there were also marches in major cities in the central and southern Philippines.

Aquino, in his labor day message, insisted the government was not deaf to the demands of workers, but stressed the country’s poor fiscal position made it diffiult to quickly deliver on his promises.

He noted that the government had already announced non-wage benefits, including subsidies and allowances for the poor.

“We all know that the government lacks funds. But while we have limited funds, we have not been remiss in using them properly,” Aquino said.

He urged the Filipino labor force to remain patient, and told them problems relating to jobs would not be solved overnight.

“Those who are telling you that lasting changes can be made overnight or in a month are only pulling your leg,” he said.

“What is clear is that we are headed to real, significant changes.”

The non-wage benefits announced by Aquino was also criticized by the labor group Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) saying that it’s a mere photo-opportunity rather than a show of genuine concern for workers.

PM national chairman Renato Magtubo said that as for the job fairs, the government is making a roadshow of jobs it did not create and lauding the contractual jobs preferred by employers.

Aquino brings no good news for the workers, just a consuelo de bobo. Non-wage benefits should complement not supplant a wage hike, he said.

In a prepared statement, KMU said that this year’s Labor Day bears witness to the display of outrage by the Filipino workers and people over the Aquino regime’s refusal to grant a significant wage hike amidst rising prices of basic goods and services, and petroleum products especially.

“It is an outrage directed at the hunger, poverty and oppression that have intensified over the reign of regimes which have all served big foreign capitalists and governments and the local ruling elite at the expense of the Filipino workers and people,” it said.

“It is an outrage over the extreme exploitation and oppression of Filipino workers. The pressing down of wages, the rolling back of job security, the lack of jobs and livelihood, and attacks on trade-union rights have intensified through the years,” it added.

The targets of laborers’ continuing outrage are the unabated oil price hikes and overpricing of oil, the Aquino regime’s efforts to deny a significant wage hike through the regional wage boards, and cuts in subsidies to education and social services.

Aquino also invited the labor sector to hold more regular dialogs with employers and government officials to talk about labor concerns.

In his speech during the 109th celebration of Labor Day at Malacañang’s Heroes Hall, he proposed quarterly consultations to better deal with the necessities and appeals of the labor sector and to help government swiftly draft labor policies.

He noted that the workforce should not only be noticed during Labor Day. “We do not promise the impossible. The funds may be short, but we are never short of means to use these limited funds,” he said.

Aquino urged the labor sector to join in discussions to find solutions, adding the hope that by next year, the problems and appeals of the labor force are dealt with and are given remedies.

As tension increases between the workers and the wage board, Aquino also called on the wage boards to act hastily on the minimum wage earners’ filed petitions. “We will work on the processing of appeals filed by the minimum wage earners in the National Labor Relations Commission and reforms will be executed as soon as possible,” he said.

The President also announced an increase in salary of government employees, which would be the third tranche of salary standardization law, in June.

Also during his speech, he cited his campaign pledge to give Filipinos decent jobs.

Under the Community-based Employment Program, an additional one million jobs were given, Aquino said.

For farmers, the President also announced a P4.23 billion subsidy for small scale farmers and fisher folk that will augment their incomes during the lean months following a harvest season. The subsidy will be used to pay them in exchange for services – cleaning of communities, rivers, etc. – provided by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The President also cited other job generation programs of the government such as the deployment of 10,000 registered nurses to poor barangays under the Department of Health’s RN HEALS (Registered Nurses for Health Enhancement And Local Service) program and the infrastructure-related Community-Based Employment Program (CBEP) that are expected to provide one million jobs to build bridges, school buildings and irrigation facilities.

He also announced that the government’s summer job program catering to 80,000 students – the Special Program for Employment of Students (SPES) – has been expanded to allow more beneficiaries to participate in the program, adding a budget of P168 million which shoulders an addition of 52,000 students. He added that they will work on growing the budget for SPES in 2012.

The government has also launched its Career Guide program, an online labor market information service that will provide a qualified jobseeker with updates on in-demand jobs as well as match a graduate’s learning skills to possible and available jobs.

Partidong Mangagawa estimated that the cost of living for a family of six in is around P1000 a day. PM based its estimate on its own cost of living study last year and the inflation rate over the past year.

The group is pushing for the establishment of a National Wage Commission. “The National Wage Commission will be different from the wage boards in that its mandate is to fix wages based on the single criterion of cost of living.

Despite the huge difference between the minimum wage and the cost of living, the Wage Commission can bridge the gap by a host of mechanisms among which are direct wage increases, tax exemptions, price discounts and social security subsidies for workers,” Magtubo added. Pat C. Santos, Mina Diaz, Danessa O. Rivera, AFP

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