On the provision of wage hikes through regional wage boards

The Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) welcomes the move of the government to discuss with the workers and employers another round of wage increase. However, this does not in itself address the sector’s issues nor does it mean that our grievances have been heard nor solved.

The current living wage is now pegged at P748 as of April 2006 and the APL is appalled by the obstinate posturing of employers to stick with the minimum wage levels of P325 or even less. Even if that means the minimum wage which workers receive now is way below the poverty threshold.

An across the board wage increase should help close the gap between minimum wage and the living wage. After all, the Constitution itself in Article XV, Section 3 paragraph 3, guarantees a living wage. It is the realization of this provision one that which we think will truly lift workers out of poverty. Ironically, the creation of the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards (RTWPBs) only worsened the suppression of the right of workers for a decent living.

First, historically speaking wage boards are ineffective in responding to workers’ demands for wage levels that will truly lift us out of poverty. RTWPBs are composed of 3 representatives from government, 2 each from the employers and workers. This means that all they need is the vote of 1 of the 2 labor representatives and they can railroad a decision.

Second, the RTWPBs usually grant minimum wage adjustments only. This means that only those who earn the minimum wage (and below) will enjoy such an adjustment. It further distorts the wage structures among and within industries.

And third, all wage orders issued by the RTWPBs are replete with exemptions that effectively reduce the number of covered workers. It was for this reason that in the last wage order granted by the NCR RTWPBs, 90% of wage and salary earners were effectively excluded.

After 18 years of its existence, the RTWPBs, created by RA 6727 in 1989, has failed to live up to its mandate of rationalizing the fixing of minimum wages; “to ensure a decent standard of living for the workers and their families; to guarantee the rights of labor to its just share in the fruits of production; to enhance employment generation in the countryside through industry dispersal.”

The regionalized determination of minimum wage has brought more problems and wage distortions now that we have more than 300 minimum wage levels around the country. While the number of minimum wage levels have gone down from its peak of about 800 years ago, the current trend is now again towards implementing more and more wage levels. Worse, because of the RTWPBs’ decision-making processes, the lowest minimum wage is found in a place where the cost of living is one of the highest (ARMM)!

Instead of ensuring a “decent standard of living for the workers and their families,” the RTWPBs has condemned minimum wage earners to earn wages that are below poverty threshold. In a study done in 2005, it was found that all minimum wage levels around the country are below the poverty threshold!

A LEARN study showed that instead of guaranteeing “the rights of labor to its just share in the fruits of production,” RTWPBs have become powerless to arrest the continued fall or real wages despite increasing labor productivity.

And rather than “enhance employment generation in the countryside through industry dispersal,” jobs generation has faltered despite the respectable economic growth these past few years, because wage levels determined by RTPWBs do not stimulate economic activity.

Obviously, the employers benefited from all the decisions made by the RTPWBs. Thus, if there is anything that the RTWPBs have achieved, it is its mandate to “allow business and industry reasonable returns on investment, expansion and growth.” More detestable is the brazen objective of setting up the wage boards: to dissipate workers unity and struggle for a national level wage increase and bail out the executive government in performing its primary and constitutionally mandated task of ensuring decent living for the workers.

The APL stands firm in its position that wage hikes should be done on a three-tiered level: 1) National: legislated and across-the-board with the same level of increase applied to all regions; 2) Industry: Unions working along the same industry; and 3) Union level or Collective Bargaining Agreement.

To course wage hikes through the wage boards is, in essence, to ask workers to beg for loose change. This is unfair to say the least and outrageous at the most. We want and deserve wages that will put food on our tables and send our kids to school. This is the just and equitable fruit of labor that jurisprudence and our very own Constitution have recognized as vital to the realization of social justice. But what capitalists insist on are crumbs and wage boards seem beholden to this view, as far as their performance is concerned.

What is needed now is a legislated wage increase and the reform of the wage determination system. However, both the bill calling for a P125 wage increase and the HB 1487 authored by AKBAYAN has been largely ignored because it will upset a lot of employers.

There is a need not only to prioritize the bill providing for a wage hike, but also to ensure the passage of House Bill 1487 abolishing the tripartite regional wage boards and providing for a new structure that will determine wages nationwide and to determine minimum wages along industry lines as well and further strengthening the right of laborers to collectively bargain.

Government must realize that the interests of the many must always take precedence over the vested interests of a few. Protecting its people will always beat out kowtowing to pleasing the avarice of a few in the long run.

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