LABOR DAY RITES

Aquino sees increases in minimum wages

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MANILA, Philippines—In a Labor Day speech, President Benigno Aquino III Sunday said he expected minimum wage earners in Metro Manila to get a pay raise by next week, and the rest of them across the country within the month.

He did not mention any figure in announcing the “good news” at a breakfast meeting with 90 leaders of 21 labor groups in Malacañang, saying the raise will be decided in regional tripartite wage boards deliberating on petitions for wage increases amid a regime of rising prices triggered by runaway hikes in petroleum prices.

“Maybe we have been used to a Labor Day that becomes a Day of Bluffing where the government tended to shower us with numbers to make it look good while it ignored workers all throughout the year,” the President said in his speech in Filipino.

“But the new administration is not like that—our good news is not just all talk and not encased in numbers that are being trumpeted but not being carried out.”

Mr. Aquino urged wage boards to fast-track deliberations, noting that “tension between labor and management tended to arise as wage petitions awaited action.” He said that acting on the petitions now would allow “workers to focus on their jobs and all of us can breathe a sigh of relief.”

The President later told reporters he expected the wage board in the National Capital Region to come out with a wage order by next week. The board earlier said a wage increase can be sought because of “supervening event” brought by high oil prices.

“So we will be pressing (other regional wage boards) to finalize everything. We cannot promise that within the month everybody will be finished but we will be pressing them to finish within the month.”

Raises for gov’t workers

The government’s 1.4 million workers, on the other hand, are expected not only to get next month their salary raise for the year—one month ahead of schedule—but will also get their midyear bonus before May 15, the President said.

Mr. Aquino also announced in his address that a P4.23-billion rice subsidy for small-scale farmers and fisherfolk and that the government would continue to provide employment to the people, including working students.

On top of the “Pantawid Pasada” or fuel subsidy for jeepney and tricycle drivers which will begin this month, Mr. Aquino also said the government would soon provide a P2-billion farm inputs subsidy that will see farmers being provided with seeds, fertilizers and even pesticides.

The President stressed the measures and other benefits announced Sunday were things that can be done as he noted that these were meant to help workers and the people in general to cope with the impact of high oil and food prices in the country.

Partial package

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said what the President announced was just a “partial” package that the government can immediately give to workers. He stressed that Mr. Aquino was not the type to just make promises.

“There is also one thing that we are looking forward to: the third tranche of our salary standardization that would be released in June. You heard it right. It’s in June and not July that government workers will receive an increase in their pay,” the President said.

He said the early release of the third tranche of the salary hikes would provide great relief, especially with the start of the new school year.

“Why should we give tomorrow what we can give today?” he said.

Salary standardization

Mr. Aquino said funding for the third tranche of the salary standardization law would come from savings of personal services.

Apparently addressing criticism that his administration has not fulfilled a promise to create jobs, Mr. Aquino said that the Department of Health’s Registered Nurse Heal program had been able to deploy 10,000 nurses in remote provinces.

More than one million people also had been given jobs in government construction projects of the community-based employment program, he said.

Over 130,000 students will be given jobs this year through the special program for employment of students during the summer break so that they can pay for their tuition in schools, Mr. Aquino said.

The President proposed meeting with labor leaders at least every quarter of the year. “It’s not good that we only give attention to workers on May 1 and then see them again the same time next year,” he said.

More pressing problems

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said in a statement Labor Day should not be focused solely on wage increases but also include other measures aimed at improving the quality of life.

Labor groups have pushed for P125 per day wage hike in Congress and have made it their rallying call every Labor Day but Malacañang has remained cool to the deemand as it preferred that adjustments be made through regional wage boards.

Belmonte pointed out that wage was just one issue faced by the labor sector which also has to contend with labor “contractualization,” poor enforcement of minimum wage laws, and the spread of child labor.

He said another major issue was the impact of the rising conflict in the Middle East, which counts for a big chunk of the country’s overseas foreign workers, which could force Filipinos to return home and lead to a drop in remittances.

“Government (has) to look for new models to address our economic development,” Belmonte said.

At the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Chair Francis Tolentino announced that 424 laborers with the lowest salary grades would receive a pay hike as a Labor Day gift. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and Penelope Endozo

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