“The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce is trying to deceive workers with promises of a better employment situation when the truth is that the country has been pressing down wages for decades but unemployment still continues to grow.” – KMU
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Fourteen years since the Philippine government shifted wage-fixing to regional wage boards, wage hikes all over the Philippines are now at their lowest levels compared to profits and prices, said the workers and allies of labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). They picketed in front of the gates of Occupational Health and Safety Center in Quezon City, August 8, site of the final hearing on wage hike petition lodged by the government-backed Trade Union Center of the Philippines (TUCP).
For their wage hike demands, the KMU and other labor groups have opted to support the proposed legislated wage hike bill in Congress instead of lodging petitions before the regional wage boards.
“This government agency (regional wage board) has proven over the years how cold-hearted it is to workers,” said Nenita Gonzaga, KMU Vice-chair for women. She said regional wage boards have time and again proven to all workers that “its ears are turned only to employers. To workers’ demands of significant wage hikes, the wage boards are deaf.”
Last year, the Metro Manila wage board granted what most labor groups described as “paltry to meaningless hike.” Lito Luces of LAND-KMU accused the regional wage boards of “performing yet another hocus-pocus” in its hearings, “just like what they did in the past elections, to benefit the interests of the wealthy employers.”
Call to dissolve regional wage boards
“We are more for the dissolution of these inutile wage boards,” Roger Soluta, KMU secretary-general, told Bulatlat.com. He urged all workers, even government employees, to support efforts to push lawmakers to enact an across-the-board, significant wage hike. He said that in the regional wage boards’ 14 to 15 years of existence, all it did was to force wages to remain low.
The regional wages boards were formed in 1989. It is supposed to decide on the yearly amounts of wage hike with the presence of representatives of employers and labor. But over the years, it has been consistently relied on by employers to cap hikes at “paltry” or insignificant levels, as labor groups aside from KMU have previously lamented in congressional hearings and street actions.
This year’s proposed wage hike for Metro Manila of P85 ($1.97) per day by the TUCP, an amount lower than the P125 ($2.90) being proposed in Congress, prompted the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines to write the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board-National Capital Region chairman Alex Avila. Aside from reiterating to the wage board their support for the two-tiered wage system rolled out since last year by the Aquino government, it opposed the wage hike, according to KMU, “making it appear that labor cost is such a huge chunk of the companies’ overall production costs.”
That is a lie, the KMU said. In a statement, it explained that due to various anti-worker policies implemented in the past decades, labor cost is now “just a small section of overall production cost.”
‘Foreign chambers lying to protect profits’
KMU members also slammed the Joint Chambers of Commerce’s opposition and “lies” about wage hikes.
Instead of causing an economic meltdown, an implementation of a significant wage hike can only benefit the country as its citizens, the workers, “will get some relief from the worsening hunger and poverty in the country,” said Elmer Labog, KMU chairman, in a statement.
Labog shared that his group has been “in constant touch” with small Filipino businessmen and that they are also concerned about their plight. “They tell us that labor cost is a small section of production cost even in their businesses.”
The Joint Foreign Chambers have cited concerns for small businesses in blocking wage hikes. But Labog said big businesses being represented by the JFC are just “trying to hide from view policies that serve the interests of big foreign and local capitalists to the detriment of small Filipino businessmen.”
There are hindrances indeed to the growth of small Filipino businessmen, Labog said, and big businesses are a factor in it. He said the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce is being “hypocritical” when it invoked the plight of Filipino businesses to block wage hikes “while keeping quiet about the real hindrances to its growth.”
The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce had warned that raising wages “could force businesses – especially micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which make up 99.6 percent of registered businesses in the country, to pass on the cost to consumers. The group said it “will fuel inflation,” and cause lay offs of workers as these ventures “streamline operations in order to survive…”
In fact, there have been policies or regulations in the past that allow exemptions from paying the minimum wage to micro and small enterprises. In their picket protest where the regional wage board was deliberating on wage hike petitions, KMU leaders also blasted employers such as those represented by Joint Chambers of Commerce and the likes of Filipino tycoons Henry Sy, Lucio Tan and the Zobel-Ayalas, whose businesses prosper enough to land their names in Forbes magazines’ list of top billionaires. Roger Soluta, secretary general of KMU, said the wage freeze and lowering of wages through contractualization and outsourcing being implemented by these companies are the reasons their assets have grown into billions.
In opposing wage hikes, big businesses are protecting their profits and not local businesses, or even the available jobs in the country, Labog said. Independent think-tank Ibon Foundation’s study last May shows that legislating a P125 across-the-board wage hike nationwide will only result in a 15 percent reduction in the profits of capitalists in the country.
‘Wage hikes could have lessened the wider gap between rich and poor’
Ibon also said during its midyear economic briefing in UP Quezon City last month, “The numbers for growth are showing up in profits.”
Sonny Africa, research head of Ibon, said that during the three years in which President Benigno Aquino III had consistently refused to hike wages by a significant amount, corporate profits of the PSE-listed and the net worth of 40 richest Filipinos have all gone up at their highest levels in history. From 2010 to 2012, PSE-listed companies’ profits increased from P438 billion to P501 billion ($10.186 billion to $11.65 billion), Ibon said. The net worth of richest 40 Filipinos more than doubled from $23 billion in 2010 to $47 billion in 2012.
Ibon also pointed to how the gap between the rich and poor has widened under Aquino. The gap may have been slightly lessened by a significant wage hike, but so far, all workers heard from Aquino, the KMU said, are erroneous justifications at refusing their wage hike demands.
KMU also blasted what they call as the clichéd threats of layoffs due to wage hikes. The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce told the wage board that “Wages must remain competitive in the sense that wage levels must not result in job loss, as investors avoid the Philippines in favor of other countries with lower labor costs and local markets sell more imported than locally made products.”
“The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce is trying to threaten workers with massive layoffs when there shouldn’t be massive layoffs once a significant wage hike is implemented,” Labog said. He added that it is “trying to deceive workers with promises of a better employment situation when the truth is that the country has been pressing down wages for decades but unemployment still continues to grow.”
KMU vowed to intensify protests with the opening of 16th Congress. They are pushing for the passage of P125 Wage Hike Bill. First filed in 2001 by the late Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Crispin Beltran, the wage hike bill has been re-filed at every opening of Congress. This time, Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap has re-filed what is now House Bill 253.