It’s a “Good Job Day.”
That’s how President Aquino wanted to characterize Labor Day.
On the eve of the event, Aquino unveiled a 7-percent increase in benefits for Social Security System (SSS) members pegged on a 0.6-percent increase in contributions, and equal benefits for government workers.
“Wouldn’t it be better to treat Labor Day as a day of celebration, instead of as a day of bickering—a day for both workers and employees to celebrate a productive year, a day to recognize the hard work of every employee, and thank for the blessing of a decent, dignified job?” he said at a dialogue with workers in Malacañang on Tuesday.
“From this day onwards, I hope that we treat Labor Day as a Good Job Day. We’ve accomplished a lot of positive things, and these came about not because of blame-swapping but because of cooperation. Enough of negativism. It’s time to greet one another ‘good job,’” he said.
Most of the labor leaders emerged disappointed from the dialogue, claiming that Aquino’s solutions were unresponsive to their demands: end contractualization, stop the killings of labor leaders, eliminate taxes on benefits, bring down high power costs and resettle workers out of danger areas.
“Contractualization is the major reason why there’s no genuine inclusive growth,” said Daniel Edralin, chairman of the moderate Alliance of Progressive Labor. He referred to the practice of most companies of hiring workers on a six-month contract to prevent them from becoming permanent employees.
The President said that balancing the interests of labor and management was tough given that there were 2.9 million unemployed, 7.9 million underemployed and more than 600,000 joining the labor pool every year.
“We want all of these issues resolved immediately but this won’t happen if we play politics,” he said.
SSS facing bankruptcy
Aquino said it was about time the SSS pension scheme was amended by raising the current contribution rate from 10.4 percent to 11 percent so each member would enjoy a higher benefit.
With the 0.6-percent increase in contribution—equivalent to P60 for an employee earning P10,000 a month and to be shared equally by the employee and the employer—the government would cut SSS’s unfunded liability of P1.1 trillion by P141 billion, he said.
Since 1980, the across-the-board pension has been raised 20 times, but the contribution rate was increased only twice, Aquino said.
“We’ve been shelling out so much money, but we’re not pocketing anything. The end result is bankruptcy. In 2011, the estimated unfunded liability of SSS stood at P1.1 trillion. If we don’t do anything, this is expected to go up by 8 percent a year,” he said.
“What then is the solution? The 10.4-percent contribution rate is very low. The international standard for SSS contributions is at 14.1 percent, while the rate for government contribution is 21 percent,” Aquino said.
He said the government would raise the monthly salary credit from P15,000 to P16,000 and the net effect would be a 7-percent increase in benefits.
The President also announced that he signed last week Executive Order Nos. 134 and 135 equalizing the employees’ compensation benefits for those working in the public and private sectors.
In case of an accident, a government employee has no “carer’s” allowance, and is entitled to only P90 a day in temporary total disability benefit. A private employee enjoyed a carer’s
allowance of P575 on top of a P200 daily temporary total disability benefit, he said.
Victorino Balais, president of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, said, “They promised nonwage benefits, but these are not what the workers are seeking.” Without any prompt action on the workers’ demands, they had no other recourse but to petition for a wage increase and join protests, he said.
The lives of the workers are an endless cycle of “termination and application,” no thanks to “casualization” and contractualization, Edralin said. He lamented that extrajudicial executions of labor leaders continued during the Aquino administration with six cases, down from 30 cases during the Arroyo administration.
“No matter how straight the path is, if it’s being watered by blood, we’ll go nowhere. The road to the cemetery is a straight path too,” he said.
Security of tenure
Aquino explained that he could not certify the Security of Tenure Bill as urgent since such certification applied only to measures in response to emergency or calamity. Besides, the enactment of this bill would benefit 1.8 million employees but lead to a loss of 10 million jobs. But he said he was open to amending the bill.
Edralin questioned the basis for the potential loss of 10 million jobs if the measure is signed into law.
To better implement labor laws and prevent contractualization, Aquino said the government allotted P180 million for the hiring of 372 more labor law compliance officers. “By October, they’ll be able to help arrest violators of our labor laws,” he said.
To address killings, Aquino said he ordered Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to double up her department’s efforts to investigate and prosecute such cases.
On raising the tax exemption of benefits from P30,000 to P60,000, Aquino said this would result in P2.74 billion in foregone tax revenues, an amount sufficient for the construction of more than 3,000 classrooms and more than 11,000 homes. “Is it just to put the education of our youth in peril? Should we deny housing projects to the poor? I hope not,” he said.
Aquino said the government continued to invest in the conditional cash transfer, benefiting 3.97 million of the country’s poorest households.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines National Secretariat for Social Action, said the country’s growing economy was useless if the common people would not feel it.
“One way to have equality in the economic growth is proper salary and benefits for the workers,” Pabillo said on Tuesday. “It’s really one issue that the government should face this Labor Day if it really wants [equal] growth for everybody and not just for the few.”
Workers belonging to moderate groups have appealed for an P85 increase in the daily minimum wage in Metro Manila while militant workers are demanding a P125 pay hike.
Pabillo pointed out that the current minimum wage of P456 mandated by the Metro Manila wage board was barely half of the estimated P1,000 daily cost of living. “So the minimum wage is really not enough if the government will not enforce wage increase,” said the prelate.—With reports from Jocelyn R. Uy and Tina G. Santos