Krusada: Wage hike

Posted at 05/18/12 7:09 PM

Jorge Cariño discovered how minimum wage earners are able to cope with the spiraling costs of basic commodities and provide for their families’ needs such as school fees and electricity and water bills.

A laborer for a private company earns a minimum wage of P426 a day. Government employees, however, earn much less. Consequently, laborers clamor for wage hike, asking for P90 to P125 increase.

Conversely, employers say that the proposed wage hike could negatively affect their respective businesses as well as the economy in general.

Jorge Cariño probes into the issue to give both workers and employers a venue to air their views.

(bold)Minimum wage earners(end bold text)

Jorge wanted to show how many impoverished Filipinos struggle everyday by taking on the duties of a MMDA “kaminero” and observing firsthand the conditions of laborers in a steel factory.

JeorgeCariño worked as a MMDA ‘kaminero’ for a day.
Photo courtesy of Christine Chu

Noriel Pinca is a gutter cleaner for the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). Noriel says there is a huge lack of opportunities for men like him who barely finished elementary schooling, leaving him no other choice but to take on the job. Providing for his five children always comes first.

Together with Noriel, Jorge helped clean street gutters and sewers to experience how it is to live on minimum wage.

“Their job seems really easy but if you were in their shoes, you’d have to be extra diligent and persevering,” said Jorge about his experience.

Because the MMDA is a government agency, Noriel’s basic pay is P376 per day. His gross pay is around P8,780 per month. Once his Pag-IBIG, PhilHealth contributions and debts are deducted, his net pay would only total to P3,306 in a month (P1,653 per 15 days).

His family’s budget for 15 days is P500. It becomes impossible for his family to survive with his take home pay so they borrow again, piling up their debts even more.

Diosdado Villafuerte, a 50-year-old metal cutter for 17 years, shares the same struggles as Noriel. Coming from the province, he was also not able to finish school. Despite the length of his service to the factory where he is employed, he was only given an additional P54 to his salary. Regardless, Diosdado still considers himself lucky for the increase.

His gross income is now P480 per day.

To augment his meager income, Diosdado plants crops to sell. He uses the profit to buy milk for his three-month-old baby.

Experts and employers speak

The People Power of 1986 prompted democratization and the legalization of workers’ rights to lobby for wage hike from the government.

It was successful but only to a certain point, as there were huge differences in the increase and basic salaries. Workers from the provinces receive less than laborers in the city.

Atty. Allan Macaraya of the National Wage Board explained that employers in Manila have a stronger capacity to pay compared to those in the provinces.

However, Allan Tunsay, spokesperson of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), believes that workers in the city and in the provinces both share the same conditions.

“They are really chocked up, especially now that almost all basic commodities are subject to continuous inflation,” he said.

With this premise, TUCP filed a P90 wage petition to the National Wage Board. Tunsay hopes to alleviate the workers’ financial pains once the petition is approved but also realizes that P90 is still not enough to make an impact.

On the other hand, employers like those from Diosdado’s company assert that they have no plans on straitening the circumstances for their employees. Nevertheless, adequate time and preparations are still said to be needed for the move; including readiness for the possible repercussions, if the government permits the increase filed in the Congress.

Moreover, Prof. Benjamin Diokno, Economics professor at the University of the Philippines (UP), posited a strong point, thinking of the long run.

“When we talk about minimum wage, we should ask, who should we give more interest to, the ones who already have jobs or those who don’t? Increasing the minimum wage would further reduce opportunities for the unemployed. Furthermore, those who are already employed might eventually lose their jobs.”

May 3, 2012