P22 COLA hike bad news to militant labor
MANILA, Philippines—Backed by a Catholic bishop, militant labor groups Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) Tuesday assailed the Aquino administration for the “meager” P22-increase in the cost of living allowance (COLA) of minimum wage earners in Metro Manila.
The increase approved on Monday by the National Capital Region’s wage board, which will raise the workers’ daily compensation to P426, did not impress Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, an advocate of workers’ rights.
“The soaring prices of commodities and gasoline will just eat up the P22-increase,” Pabillo said over the Church-run Radio Veritas. “It seems that they are toying with and making fun of our workers.”
PM chair Renato Magtubo said the increase was “bad news instead of the good news promised” by President Benigno Aquino III to workers shortly before Labor Day.
KMU chair Elmer Labog said the P22 to be added to the cost of living allowance was “not anywhere near the P125 wage hike that we workers have long been clamoring for,” and would not provide “real immediate relief amidst the rising prices of basic goods and services, especially petroleum products.”
“This is not surprising, yet still infuriating,” Labog said.
He said it showed that “the government does not recognize the Filipino workers’ long-standing suffering and hunger [and] that the current severe economic crisis will continue to affect the nation and the world in the coming years.”
Labog also said the Aquino administration had been “putting on a show of increasing wages” for a month, “only to approve a meager additional cost of living allowance.”
‘Too little, too late’
Pabillo said the approval of the increase was made when prices of basic commodities had already soared.
He also wondered why the government was quicker in making decisions on increases in transport fees than on matters that would help improve the welfare of poor workers.
The announcement of the increase in the cost of living allowance of Metro Manila workers coincided with a notice from the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board doubling rail transit fares in the capital.
As though echoing the bishop, Rep. Walden Bello of the party-list group Akbayan said the increase was “too little, too late” to effectively boost the workers’ capacity to weather economic woes.
Bello said the inflation of fuel prices now stood at 10.19 percent; transport, at 7.28 percent; and food, 4.03 percent.
He said the soaring prices of basic commodities were threatening to push millions of families propped up by minimum wage earners across the poverty threshold.
Bello pushed for the abolition of the regional wage boards and proposed that wages be synchronized according to industry lines.
“The track record speaks for itself—slow responses to crisis, bare-minimum increases on wage and nonwage benefits,” he said in a statement.
“Regional wage boards have been used as a means to consolidate the power of employers against labor, which has rendered their existence antithetic to their main purpose—to empower workers, especially when it comes to the determination of wages,” he said.
Bello said wage setting should be up to the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), with wage adjustments made according to the overall state of the economy and inclusive of industry considerations.
He also said the government should compel employers to raise wages and provide additional benefits to workers to allow them to meet the rising costs of living.
Aquino to blame
PM members picketed the Department of Labor and Employment main office in Intramuros, Manila, and said Mr. Aquino was “squarely to blame” for the P22-increase in the cost of living allowance.
“Instead of appealing to employers, he should have told the three government representatives in the wage board to push for a wage hike, not [an increase] in the cost of living allowance,” Magtubo said.
He warned that the Metro Manila wage board’s move would “set a trend” for the other wage boards to grant an increase in the cost of living allowance instead of in the minimum wage.
“The cost of living allowance is a misnomer because it is supposed to bridge the gap between the take-home pay and the cost of living,” Magtubo said.
He pointed out that “the cost of living in the [capital] is already P1,010 as of March for a family of six, and yet the minimum wage plus the cost of living allowance add up to only P426, which will not buy even half of the basket of goods and services.”
Abolish wage boards
He said the government representatives in the wage board heard, “not [Mr. Aquino’s] call for a wage hike, but the employers’ plea for cheap labor.”
“Once more the wage boards have betrayed the workers,” he said, adding that his group was now calling for the abolition of the wage boards.
The militant youth group Anakbayan, through its chair Vencer Crisostomo, also called the P22 increase “pathetic.”
“First, it is a far cry from the P125 nationwide wage hike being demanded by labor and other progressive groups. Second, the minimum wage in Metro Manila will remain at P404 [because the increase] is merely in the ‘allowance,’” Crisostomo said, adding:
“This means other wage benefits such as the 13th month pay will be calculated using P404, not P426, as basis. And even before such a miserable amount has reached the pockets of workers, [Mr. Aquino] has snatched it away through his latest series of price increases.”
Overturned ruling rare
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines had said that it was studying the possibility of appealing the Metro Manila wage board’s ruling.
But NWPC chair Ciriaco Lagunzad III said it was unlikely that the ruling would be overturned.
“As a principle, the commission grants the board the autonomy to make this kind of a decision. So it’s very rare that the commission would overturn or revise the board’s decision,” Lagunzad said.
He said employers who would appeal the ruling would have to post a bond equivalent to the total increase in the region, “and that is close to impossible.”
“And as a practice and in accordance to the rules, the appeal will not stop the enforcement of the wage order,” he said. With a report from Cynthia D. Balana
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