Salary increases in Central Visayas, North Mindanao set

04/15/2011 -A LABOR group on Thursday welcomed the decision of the National Wages and Productivity Board to fast-track the deliberations on the adjustment of minimum wage in Metro Manila.

As a result, it has spurred the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) plans to file separate wage petitions in some Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards (RTWPBs).

"We haven't decided on the exact date yet but in the next few days, TUCP will file wage petitions ranging from P75 to P100 in Regions 3 (Central Luzon), 4A (Calabarzon), 7 (Central Visayas) and 10 (Northern Mindanao)," TUCP spokesperson Rafael Mapalo told Sun.Star.

Data from the NWPC show that as of last year, workers in the said regions get the following minimum wage rates: P303 (Central Luzon), P337 (Calabarzon), P285 (Central Visayas), and P256 (Northern Mindanao).

TUCP, which filed a P75 across-the-board increase for Metro Manila's private employees last March, is hoping that the new rate will be sufficient to help the workers.

"We remind the wage board that a new salary increase should also attempt to raise workers' standard of living and not to merely address their reduced purchasing power," Mapalo said.

On Wednesday, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the NWPC has established a "supervening condition" in Metro Manila, which paved the way for hearings and deliberations on the wage hike petition.

Under the law, regional boards are barred from entertaining wage petitions within one year unless there is a "supervening condition" or an extraordinary increase in prices of basic commodities.

Minimum wage earners in Metro Manila started to receive P404 last July 2010, when the NWPC decided to raise salaries by P22.

Meanwhile, a radio report quoted NWPC Executive Director Ciriaco Lagunzad III as saying the regional wage board in Region 6 (Western Visayas) also declared a "supervening condition" in the area.

"Oil price hike was primarily the basis for the wage board's decision to declare a supervening condition in Western Visayas," he said.

"If the wage board in a certain region ruled that there was no supervening condition today, tomorrow is another day and the situation could be different," Lagunzad added.

Bleak prospects under Aquino

Militant labor group Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), on the other hand, believed that workers face an even bleaker prospects under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

"Though absolutely necessary, a wage hike in the country does not necessarily lead to enjoying a happy life for a worker's family as wages in the Philippines remain at starvation level while working conditions deteriorate further," PM chair Renato Magtubo told Sun.Star.

Unless the government complies with its constitutional mandate to provide workers a family living wage (FLW), PM said "wage levels in the country shall remain as such - a starvation wage just enough to make workers available for work the following day."

PM has been proposing that the current wage fixing mechanism is replaced by a new system that would institutionalize living wage based on the current cost of living as the principal basis for determining the basic minimum wage.

Living wage is defined as the amount of family income needed to provide for the family's food and non-food expenditures, including a 10 percent proportion of "other components" to allow for savings or investments, according to the NWPC.

The latest figures (September 2008) posted at the NWPC website puts the FLW in the Metro Manila at P917 a day to as high as P1,322 in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).

PM's own estimate in 2009 puts it at P1,000, higher than the current minimum wage in NCR at P404. This means that the P125 or P75 proposed wage hikes can in no way cover the cost of living and income gap.

"There is clearly a mismatch between the actual needs of workers and their level of income. This is because the present system puts more premium on the 'capacity to pay' of an employer rather than the 'capacity to buy' of a worker," explained Magtubo in a separate statement.

And even if there is no strong correlation between wage hikes and impact on productivity, Magtubo said employers usually threaten the government to defer any wage adjustments or file unnecessary exemptions to avoid compliance.

Another problem, the former partylist representative said, is that wage hikes cover only less than half of the 36.3 million employed Filipinos, and a quarter of them get part-time jobs, based on the January data of the National Statistics Office (NSO).

The other half of employed persons lives on their own either as self-employed or as unpaid laborers.

On the other hand, around 2.91 million Filipinos are completely out of work, notwithstanding the entry of returning overseas Filipino workers who are expected to swell the rank of the country's unemployed this summer.

Aquino hands off wage issue

Meanwhile, discussions regarding salary increases will be left to regional tripartite wage boards, which set pay rates, President Benigno Aquino III said on Thursday, two weeks before Labor Day.

In an in interview in General Santos City Thursday, Aquino stressed that salary adjustment is not normally dictated by the President but determined by the regional and national tripartite wage board.

"There are regional tripartite wage boards that are mandated by law to discuss and to determine the appropriate wage hike. If I would say a specific figure, I'm influencing the process that is dictated by law," he said.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said there is no need for the President to intervene in the discussion of salary adjustment, insisting that it is the mandate of the wage board.

"Wage hikes are determined by different wage boards. We have NCR wage board and regional wage boards...The increase is determined depending on the situation in their respective regions," Lacierda said.

He denied that the wage increase is "metro-centric" since other regions could also discuss adjustment depending on the wage boards.

He also clarified that the President did not order the wage board to reconvene, saying that the wage boards themselves have their own mechanism.

"The President does not involve himself in the determination. The best persons to determine the proper wage would be those in their respective regions because they themselves would know the working conditions, the business conditions in those areas," he said.

Militant group Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) is also demanding for a new round of salary increase saying that third tranche of salary increase in July is "too minimal and could hardly make a dent."

Lacierda said government employees should comply with the law as they are governed by the Salary Standardization Law.

"We're limited by what the law says, the executive branch is bound [and] the Department of Budget and Management is bound by what the law says and the Salary Standardization Law provides a percentage increase there so we have to respect that," he said.

He also downplayed the proposal to issue an executive order for the salary adjustment.

He reminded workers who are planning to stage protest actions to observe the rules of their respective departments and be wary about their obligations.(Sun Star)

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