The granted P22 emergency COLA won’t give workers and their families “real immediate relief amid the rising prices of basic goods and services, especially petroleum products.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – In a move widely being condemned now by all labor groups and most progressive party list groups, the Aquino government through the wage board in the National Capital Region granted last Monday a P22 ($0.51) cost of living allowance. The meager amount and the fact that it is not a wage hike but a mere allowance have struck most labor groups as “insulting.”
The timing of the grant is also not lost particularly on the labor center most steadfast in calling for a substantial and across-the-board wage hike. Timed with the resumption of the sessions in Congress, where a proposed P125 ($2.91) wage hike bill is on the table, the wage board’s grant is seen as intended only to make the Aquino “put on a show of increasing wages.” The labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said the Aquino regime has for a month been doing that in the face of an intensifying clamor for a significant and legislated wage hike.
“We condemn the Aquino regime, the Department of Labor and Employment and the regional wage boards for merely giving an additional COLA,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of KMU, in a statement.
The P22 ECOLA has proven a lot of things, most labor groups have concluded, except for the TUCP which announced that it would “appeal” the NCR wage board decision. The latest granted ECOLA confirmed most labor groups’ charges that they cannot rely on the wage boards to significantly adjust workers’ wages – prompting the KMU to condemn as well the government-backed Trade Union Congress of the Philippines. The TUCP is the only labor center that had lodged a wage hike proposal with the regional wage boards, when all the rest have trained their sight on Congress.
The KMU condemned the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines “for conniving with the (Aquino) regime and capitalists in confining workers’ calls for a significant wage hike to the regional wage boards. The TUCP is conspiring with the regime and capitalists in spreading false hopes that there can be a significant wage hike through this capitalist instrument.”
The granted additional COLA “is light-years away from the substantial P125 across-the-board wage hike that workers have been fighting for,” said Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño, adding that the Aquino government “is literally spitting on our country’s workers.”
The granted P22 emergency COLA “won’t give workers and their families real immediate relief amid the rising prices of basic goods and services, especially petroleum products,” said the KMU. In fact, it added, even the P125 wage hike they have been demanding “still won’t make wage levels approximate a living wage.”
In having settled for such an ECOLA, the Aquino government is seen as “siding with greedy employers,” and that “Mr. Aquino’s labor policy is no different from his predecessor,” as Rep. Casiño said. The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) has been vehemently opposed to a wage hike. In the face of the growing clamor for it though, the group appealed to the Aquino government to treat the rising prices as “temporary,” paving the way for a temporary solution in an emergency allowance rather than a wage increase.
Yet, a P125 daily wage hike will only reduce profit margins by 15 percent at most, said Ibon Foundation, an economic think-tank. “It is something that they (employers) can absorb and will not lead to their closure,” Casiño said.
According to EILER, a labor NGO, the depressed wage rates in the country are far from being temporary, as these have been stagnating for more than two decades now. The real value of today’s P426 (current minimum plus ECOLA), said EILER, is “almost the same as the value of NCR minimum wage in 1989, the year when the regional wage boards were created.”
The added COLA has thus not endeared the Aquino government to the labor groups. On the contrary it “shows that the government does not recognize the Filipino workers’ long-standing suffering and hunger. It does not recognize that the current severe economic crisis will continue to affect the nation and the world in the coming years,” Labog said.
“The P22 increase in ECOLA is an insult to workers. It is a slap on the face. Granting slave-level increases in workers’ allowances only prove the wage board’s inutility. Moreover, it is proof that the Aquino government treats its workers like dirt,” said Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan.
“The P22 Emergency COLA is rendered meaningless by skyrocketing increase in the prices of oil and basic commodities. Inflation is already at 4.3 percent and many expect inflation to go further up in the coming months,” explained Gabriela Rep. Ilagan. She concluded that “this ECOLA increase is practically meaningless.”
Ilagan said the emergency COLA granted by the wage board “does not even bring the minimum pay of workers close to the Family Living Wage (FLW) which the National Wages and Productivity Commission pegged at P957 ($22.28). It is not even close to the P988 Cost of Living for a family of six.”
The Gabriela solon further said the increase in ECOLA will not even be included in computations for workers’ benefits and bonuses such as the P13th month pay, separation pay as well as overtime pay. “This increase in ECOLA is not just insulting, it is also deceptive,” she said.
Pressure on legislators
“The Aquino regime’s recent move won’t dampen the workers’ and people’s protests,” said Labog of KMU. Instead, Labog said, the paltry ECOLA is pushing workers to intensify protests. In the following days, weeks and months, he said they would continue with protest actions for a significant wage hike.
In particular, labor groups said they would continue to ask Congress and the Senate to pass House Bill 375 which seeks to legislate a P125 across-the-board wage increase nationwide. “We won’t stop until the fight for a significant wage hike is won. The P22 COLA only adds fuel to the burning rage of the Filipino workers and people against the anti-worker and pro-capitalist Aquino regime,” said Labog.
“Congress is in the best position to arrest the declining value of wages by approving a legislated wage increase in the form of House Bill 375 filed by Anakpawis Party-list,” said Anna Leah Escresa, executive director of EILER.
In Congress, progressive solons such as Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan confirmed that “This development gives us more reason to push for HB 375 which will grant workers a substantial P125 across the board increase in the minimum wage.
Bayan Muna Rep. Casiño promised that they would continue to aid workers’ groups in pushing for the passage of House Bill 375.
“We shall work hard with friendly House members to get the hearings on the bill going. It is wrong for the Executive to frown on this measure. We should side with the workers who have long sought for a hike in their wages in the face of consistent rising prices and transport fares,” Casiño said.