On the Proposed Wage Hike and the Needed Policy Prescriptions for Labor Rights

The Alliance of Progressive Labor and the National Wage Alliance believes it is about time that government provide concrete relief to poor workers who toil to keep the economy afloat.  The P125 hike is a far cry from the needed adjustment to meet a living wage, but it is a start. 
 
The Senate should adopt HB345 now. The Senate’s timely and immediate action on the House approved measure reflects the chamber’s sensitivity and its recognition of the fact that current wage levels are insufficient to meet the basic needs of workers.
 
The passage of HB345 is not the solution to workers’ problems, which we believe goes way deeper than just wage levels and compensatory issues.  While its passage will go a long way in alleviating hunger among the working class, it is the very nature of labor relations that has to be changed in the end.  More tangibly, it is not merely the provision of a wage hike that will solve workers’ woes in and of itself, but the passage and enactment of a whole set of policies that defend and promote our rights as a marginalized and dis-empowered sector. 
 
APL believes that ideally, workers’ wages should be set through collective bargaining. Meanwhile, there should only be one national minimum wage set by a tripartite commission such as the National Wages and Productivity Commission. An industry minimum wage should also be determined by industry wage boards.  We cannot live forever with the current set-up where it is easy for government and business representatives to collude against workers’ petitions for wage increases through the regional wage boards.  The wage boards now turn out wage increases that are too little and too riddled with exemptions that workers end up with almost nothing.
 
Thus we need more political will to truly promote and protect workers’ rights.  Workers’ and trade union rights are denied the working class by an anti-worker Labor Code (a remnant of the Marcos dictatorship), a rabid anti-union culture among employers and local government officials, by the abusive use of contractualization, subcontracting, and other forms of labor flexibility.
 
Collective bargaining is ineffective as unions are encumbered by restrictive strike laws, if not by political repression.  Widespread unemployment due to flawed economic policies undermines worker’s right to organize.
 
We thus push for a systemic solution including the amendment of the Labor Code to strengthen trade union rights, particularly the rights to organize, security of tenure, collectively bargain, and hold strikes.  WE also demand that government, instead of toying with figures and definitions, make full employment a centerpiece of policy-making, instead of driving more and more Filipinos out of the country and putting them in harm’s way.  We also demand that the regional wage boards be abolished and replaced with industry wage boards and a singular national minimum wage setting.
 
Contrary to the lies being peddled by some sectors, it is not the cost of labor that forces companies to close shop, but the high cost of electricity, transportation because of fuel prices, corruption, unbridled liberalization, smuggling and political instability brought about by opaque and unaccountable governments such as Arroyo’s.
 
A wage hike is timely and necessary but we demand that more reforms in the political and economic arena be pursued before we can say that government has become truly effective in looking after its citizens’ rights.  This requires a government that is genuinely dedicated to workers and interested in uplifting the lives of the poor and marginalized. 
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