THE NEW labor center Sentro described Wage Order No. 18 for private sector workers in the National Capital Region (NCR) as like a slap in the face of workers while corporate profits are enjoying historic highs and the country’s politicians are wading in tons of stolen taxes from workers – also known as pork barrel.
This was the biting reaction of the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) to the announcement last Friday of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB) in NCR has approved a P10 hike in the current P456 minimum wage in Metro Manila.
“Once again, DOLE and RTWPB have shown their absurdity and incredible insensitivity toward the dire need of the workers for sufficient pay raises amid the worsening poverty and the continued inability of the vast majority of workers to afford even the basic necessities of their families,” Josua Mata, Sentro secretary general, said.
Not even half of the living wage or cost of living
Studies show that the cost of living or the “family living wage” in Metro Manila in the first quarter of this year already ranges from P1,034 to P1,200, which means that the new P466 minimum wage could not even pay for half of the essential goods and services, especially food, needed every day by a family of six.
More than P90 is also actually reduced everyday from the face value of the salary of the private sector workers in Metro Manilaprimarily due to the combined depreciation of the real value or purchasing power of the peso (PPP) and inflation or surge in the costs or prices of basic commodities and services.
Thus, a research institute claimed that last March, the real value of the P456 daily minimum wage was in fact only P363.
Even government data admit that there is a consistent drop in the PPP – using 2006 as the base year or when there was a full value of the peso – where the real value of P1 was merely 79 centavos (national) or 83 centavos (NCR) in 2011 to 75 centavos (national) or 79 centavos (NCR) as of June this year.
Paltry ‘increase’ amid huge profits and scandalous wealth of the few
Records reveal that the net income of the listed companies in the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) has skyrocketed to P501.3 billion last year from P438.1 billion in 2010, when the Aquino administration assumed office.
In a nine-month period (January-September) only last year, these corporations amassed cumulative net profits by almost 18 percent, or to P377.12 billion from P319.97 billion in the same period in 2011.
Their consolidated revenues also shot up to P3.29 trillion from P2.74 trillion during the said span of nine months only or a 20.1 percent year-on-year hike.
In particular, the Philippine Top 1,000 Corporations have piled up a growing combined net income of P756 billion in 2009, P804.1 billion in 2010, and P868.1 billion in 2011.
On the other hand, the country’s 40 richest families have obtained astonishing net worths of US$22.8 billion in 2010, $34 billion in 2011, and $47.4 billion last year or equivalent to at least 21 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012, which was $257.5 billion or P10.6 trillion ($1 = P41 rate then).
According to the latest Forbes’ list in 2013 (as of July), the wealth of the Philippine “40 richest” has even multiplied further to $64.2 billion. Add to that the $1.54 billion of 10 more richest Filipino families, the country’s “richest 50” have a mind-boggling$65.7 billion in wealth.
In fact, the combined assets of the 17 Filipino billionaires (in US dollars) in that list already account to a staggering $54.4 billion or about P2.4 trillion in the prevailing US$1 to P44.4 exchange rate.
Income inequality has barely changed in the past decades as statistics disclose that the top 20 percent or richest families in 2009 control almost 52 percent of the country’s total family income, while the bottom or poorest 80 percent compete for the 48 percent remaining “crumbs of income.”
Likewise, even the conservative data on “poor” people being issued by the government still prove that poverty rates have hardly changed from 28.8 percent of the population in 2006 to 27.9 percent last year.
Low wage + inflation = further suffering for the majority
Coinciding with the wage “hike” announcement last week was the jubilant report also of the government that the country achieved a four-year low in inflation rate of 2.1 percent last month supposedly prompted by “cheaper” electricity and gas prices.
Mata expressed concern that this could be used as one of the justifications for the insignificant P10 addition in the minimum wage.
However, even the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) has conceded in July that indeed “the country’s poorest households suffer the most from the rapid rise in the prices of consumer goods and services compared with the rest of the population.”
NSCB data also admit that the costs of food and non-food needs of households in the “bottom 30 percent of the population rose by an average of 5.7 percent from 2003 to 2012 – faster than the 4.6 percent national inflation average.”
The report said that food accounts for 74.5 percent of the consumer basket of the poorest 30 percent as opposed to the 50 percent national average.
Cheap wage come-on
That the “high” wages of Filipino workers, particularly in Metro Manila, is a main factor that discourages many foreign firms to invest in the country is a rehashed and baseless contention of unscrupulous employers and the government, Mata added.
In fact, “reasonable salary rates” – a euphemism for generally cheap wages – in the country was a major reason for Japanese companies to choose the Philippines as “the most profitable location in Asia and Oceania region,” according to a survey released in February by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO).
The capitalist dictum that lower wages “means lower cost of doing business” has made the Philippines a “profit center” as the country emerged as having the lowest salary base rate at 5.2 percent, according to the JETRO poll – compared with Malaysia’s 5.3 percent, China’s 9.4 percent, India’s 11.8 percent, Indonesia’s 17 percent, Thailand’s 6.5 percent and Vietnam’s 17.5 percent.
In the same survey, the Philippines placed second in the category of annual salary, which includes the total amount each worker receives in the form of “base salary, allowances, overtime incentives, bonuses, social security, among others.”
The Philippines and Vietnam were the two countries in the region with the lowest annual salary of workers in certain manufacturing firms, while in the non-manufacturing sector, the Philippines came out as having the “cheaper labor cost,” which is, for instance, the key basis for BPO (business process outsourcing) companies, especially call centers, in India (with a high 17.3 percent annual wage rate) to shift their operations to the Philippines.