Labor groups defend wage recovery petition

(DG file)

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

Labor groups in Western Visayas (Region 6) cited runaway inflation or spikes in the price of basic goods and services to justify the call for daily wage recovery.

United Labor-Western Visayas and Iloilo Pepsi Cola Workers Independent Union triggered another round of hearings on a potential wage adjustment after filing a petition for a P100 across-the-board “wage recovery.”

Today, the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB)-Western Visayas will hold a hearing on the petition at the regional office of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in Iloilo City.

In a position paper sent to Daily Guardian, United Labor spokesperson Mario Andon said last year’s wage increase was virtually erased because of inflation on the back of successive petroleum price increases.

In May 2022, RTWPB-WV issued Wage Order Nos. RBVI-26 and RB-6-DW-04 which mandated wage increases for workers in agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, as well as for domestic workers.

Salaries of non-agricultural workers increased by P55 from P395 to P450 in industries with more than 10 workers, and by P110 from P310 to P420 for those employing 10 or fewer workers.

Agricultural workers’ pay rose by P95, from P315 to P410.00, while domestic workers’ monthly salaries went up by P500, from P4,000 to P4,500.

The National Wages and Productivity Commission approved the new wage rates on May 19, 2022.

“For those in Region 6, an inadequate, albeit welcome relief came when the RTWPB issued an increase on wages last June of 2022. But this would not last for in the looming months came a threat that tightened belts all over the country – the inflation rate spiked up at a rate that was too fast given the many increases in petroleum prices,” Andon said.

According to the labor group’s position paper, a big part of the value of wages fluctuated due to the fast increase in prices of goods and services.

“The nation reached a record high of 8.7% last January 2023 compared to the 3.0% of January 2022. Meanwhile, Western Visayas has had the misfortune of having the highest inflation rate in all regions with 10.8% last February 2023 compared to February 2022 wherein it was only at 3.3%. despite the decline in the national and regional inflation rate, the economic impact of this can still be strongly felt. As of August 2023, we are at 6.1% compared to August 2022 which was clocked in at 7.4%. Despite the decline, prices have yet to go down to a safe level, something that workers and the poor continue to carry on their tired backs. Much more the continuous rise of petroleum products as well as of the price of rise is an additional burden to the Filipino people,” it read.

The paper also noted that the daily cost of living has always been at an unattainable level for most wage earners, and “this has only been aggravated by the region’s experience with the accelerated increase of inflation.”

Citing the data provided by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), as early as 2018 a family of five can live decently, with P42,000 or P1,400 per day as the daily cost of living.

But in today’s case, “the minimum wage is at P450 pesos, even if we boldly assume that two members of the household work, the family could still not reach this monthly cost of living,” the paper added.

United Labor-Western Visayas said the “highest nominal minimum wage for Western Visayas can not even keep up with the poverty threshold determined by the PSA.”

“According to their data, for a family of five, the annual poverty threshold for Western Visayas is at P27,083 or P11,285 per month. A minimum wage earner will only earn around P11,700 per month If they work for 26 days (daily paid workers), which is not very far and safe from the said poverty threshold. The government data shows that minimum wage earners within the region the poverty threshold. Much more the PSA also notes that a family would normally spend around P8, 379  for food. If so, this leaves very little for other expenses much more for savings in the instances of medical emergencies and such or even that of the family’s future.”

Rosy employment data also do not translate to better lives for laborers, the groups said, as a big part of the country’s workforce falls under the informal economy.

“Some 22.4 million workers can be categorized under this for the month of May 2023. Despite the 1.7 million increase in employment from 2022, most workers suffer from job insecurities such as irregular or temporary work. Most workers in the informal sector cannot even earn the P450 minimum wage daily.”

Realistically speaking, the group said Region 6’s real wage is now at a mere P362 or P9,412/month, which is P1,873 short of the poverty threshold.

United Labor added that its P100 hike petition does not equal the actual increase that workers need to keep up with the poverty threshold.

“Indeed the value of wages fluctuated by P88. According to economic Think tank IBON Foundation, the minimum wage has not been able to keep up with the yearly inflation rates. On average there will be a need for a minimum P170 wage increase (according to IBON Foundation’s computation this constitutes only 16.2% of the overall profit of enterprises within the country)  for most regions to recover the lost value of wages back in 1989 before the passage of the wage rationalization act. Despite this fact, United Labor Western Visayas has passed only a petition praying for a P100 wage increase, just so they can recover the recent loss of value of wages within the region.

Elmer Forro of Kilusang Mayo Uno, another labor group that supports the petition, said “Workers have done their part indeed in the country’s road to recovery.”

“Labor Productivity has increased by 28.9% since 2012 from P330,035 to P425,511 last 2022.  While the Top 1000 Corporations increased their profit by 68% for 2021, and the top 40 richest Filipinos net worth increased as well by 89% for the same year, the same cannot be said for the minimum wage which in it only gained ground by 18%,” Forro said.

Forro said they are aware of the business sector’s plight when it comes to wage increases.

He noted that the contradiction between the workers’ and the business owners’ calls has been a constant reality ever since the inception of the working class.

“We have taken into regard their concerns, especially those from the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and so here are our answers. The working class and business owners, especially from the MSMEs were both gravely affected by the pandemic, that is an undisputed fact. We believe that increasing wages is most favorable not only to workers and the families who are ultimately consumers but even to business owners.”

Forro said wage recovery or wage increases will boost consumer’s purchasing power.

“It is a simple economic principle that the more money you have, the more you will spend, and the more you spend, the more that money will circulate. To wit, according to the NEDA and the PSA, Western Visayas attained a 9.3% economic growth rate, topping all other regions. We believe that the June 2022 increase in wages was a big help, especially to a region that was deeply hit by the recent pandemic,” he added.

Andon cited that the PSA also depicted in last April 27, 2023 FIES (Family Income and Expenditures Survey) report that for the year 2022, Western Visayas also led all other regions when it came to Household spending, with a 12.2% rate.

“Again an increase in wages reflects upon the people’s purchasing power. Additionally, government data also shows that around 43% of the family expenditure goes to food (2018 Family Income and Expenditures Survey of the PSA). If there is an increase in wages or if workers can recover the lost value of their wages, they will have a bigger capacity to buy food which will also increase demand and eventually optimal to the economy,” Andon said.

Andon said that the continuing economic troubles of the country, “United Labor has deemed it necessary to increase wages, or at the very least for workers to recover the lost value of their wages.”

“It is a matter of everyday survival for the average wage earner and their family as much as it is for business owners especially those coming from the micro, small and medium enterprises. We pray this not merely for our own and our family’s sake but as well as that of the whole country, for we are not the only ones who shall reap the rewards of our prayer but everybody.”