MORE than two months after the previous Wage Order lapsed last March 26, the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB) in Western Visayas has finally approved a new order setting higher minimum wage rates for private sector workers in the region.
RTWPB-Western Visayas Chairman Johnson Cañete, in a press briefing at the Sugar Workers Development Center in Bacolod City yesterday, announced that the new minimum wage rates in the region which include the cost of living allowance (Cola) are P295 and P365 per day.
Cañete said, unlike Wage Order No. 23, the new one provides only two wage rates depending on various classifications or categories.
Under Wage Order No. 24, workers in the non-agriculture, industrial and commercial establishments employing more than 10 employees will receive a minimum wage of P365 per day.
From the previous P323.50, the RTWPB-6 has come up with an increase of P26.50 on basic wage plus a Cola of P15.
All in all, the increase in this classification is P41.50.
Those employing 10 workers and below, the new wage rate is P295 from only P271.50. It is derived from an increase of P18.50 plus a Cola of P5, or a total of P23.50.
For agriculture sector, plantation workers will receive P8.50 increase and Cola of P5, thus, the new wage rate is P295. This is P13.50 higher than the previous rate of P281.50.
Those in non-plantations, the new wage rate is also P295 from the previous P271.50 due to a basic wage increase of P18.50 and P5 worth of Cola, or a total of P23.50.
Cañete said the members went through two deliberations before signing the Wage Order, thus, it has set a fair increase to both labor and management sectors.
"We will not leave the room unless both sectors agreed to the amount," Cañete said, stressing that though the P41.50 is way beyond the petition yet "at least it is fair enough for both parties."
On January 22, the Philippine Agricultural, Commercial, and Industrial Workers Union-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (Paciwu-TUCP) filed a petition seeking for a P130 to P150 increase depending on the worker's classification.
The labor group wants a daily increase of P150 for non-agriculture, industrial, and commercial establishments employing more than 10 workers.
For those with less than 10 employees, the proposed increase was pegged at P130.
Under the petition, agricultural plantations with an area of more than 24 hectares should provide a P140 daily increase.
Those with an area of less than 24 hectares, with P130 additional pay.
Cañete added that "we cannot listen to all workers and businessmen but their representatives are seemed satisfied already during the haggling process."
Cañete, also the regional director of the Department of Labor and Employment-6 (Dole-6), said the Board always look into the poverty threshold and average wage in the region in conducting wage review.
Under the approved Wage Order, the rates are now above the poverty threshold of P289 yet lower than the average wage of P400.
"We are still expecting opposing reactions from different sectors but we are prepared for this," he added.
The signing of the new Wage Order by the members of the RTWPB-6 came after two deliberations conducted in Bacolod City on June 6 and 8.
"We are within 30 days after the last public hearing on May 30 as provided by the law," Cañete said.
The Board said it will be forwarded to the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) in time for its proper meeting on June 17 or 18.
The NWPC is expected to review the order, particularly on the technical contents but not on the amount as it is already deliberated by the three-sector representatives of the Wage Board.
Cañete said if the commission can tackle the order on the 18th and immediately forward it to the office of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III for his approval, then they can subject it for publication in July.
Under the guidelines, the Wage Order will take effect 15 days after publication in a newspaper of general circulation.
"Thus, we can expect the effectivity of the order in August. If based on the projected timetable from its submission to the NWPC, the soonest is on the 15th," he said.
For the labor sector, the wage adjustment is still so far below the mandated living wage and this may not satisfy all the workers in the region.
Wennie Sancho, labor representative to RTWPB-6, said they were able to get at least 27 percent of the petitioned amount and 13 percent increase on minimum wage.
Sancho, also the secretary general of the General Alliance of Workers Assembly (Gawa), said the new Wage Order will not establish sufficient economic conditions for their needs, but this will "lighten" the burden of about 1.1 million workers in the region.
"Nevertheless, we had tried our best to defend the interest of the workers," he said, adding that the new Wage Order will provide workers with an "immediate relief" amid the worsening economic conditions brought by the implementation of Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (Train) law subsequently followed by increases in prices of petroleum products and basic goods and services.
The labor leader further noted that issuing a new order is a difficult balancing act for the Board.
The labor sector agreed with the collective decision as "we are aware that this is the best we could do under the present circumstances."
"In these trying and difficult times, we can humbly say that we have done something to ameliorate the workers and shield their purchasing power from further erosion," Sancho added.
For the business sector, on the other hand, the wage increase is just "reasonable" particularly to those establishments employing more than 10 workers and situated in Metro Bacolod areas including those in cities of Talisay, Silay, and Bago.
Frank Carbon, regional governor of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) for Western Visayas, said these enterprises have the capacity to "recover" the additional wage since business operations are centered in those mentioned areas.
Carbon, also the chief executive officer Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI), said those operating in the third and fourth class municipalities will somehow be affected negatively.
"The higher basic wage increase plus the Cola is reasonable for employers particularly in the non-agriculture, industrial and commercial sector," he said, adding that "at least it would cover inflation."
The additional salary will still be recovered by the businesses through purchases of goods and services by the workers, Carbon furthered.
He also expressed optimism that higher wage will translate to more productive workers.
"With bigger salaries, it would be easy for us to encourage and motivate them to exert more effort," the business leader added.
He, meanwhile, said that the business chamber has yet to secure a copy of the just-approved Wage Order and study whether there is a need to appeal.
"We will look at how many businesses employing more than 10 workers are in third and fourth class municipalities with lower earning capacity than those in Metro Bacolod then maybe ask for lower wage rate for them," Carbon said.
Moreover, aside from setting higher rates and inclusion of Cola, the new Wage Order also has other features including the provision of the moratorium.
Taking into consideration the temporary closure of Boracay Island in Aklan resulting to non-operation of establishments there for six months, there shall be no wage increase and provision of Cola in all three barangays of Malay town.
The new Wage Order will just take effect three months after the opening of the island.
So if the rehabilitation ends in October, the effectivity is sometime in January next year.
Cañete said considering that business operations in the entire Aklan are also affected by the Boracay woes, the wage increase will take effect among other areas in the province in November this year.
For sugar industry enterprises under the agricultural, industrial, and commercial sector, the grant of Cola shall only take effect six months after the issuance of the Wage Order.
"This is in time for the expected start of the milling season. But for other industries, the granted Cola will immediately be implemented upon the issuance," he pointed out.
Under Section 8, companies may seek exemptions from the implementation of the Wage Order as long as they fall into three exceptional circumstances.
These are if establishments are distressed, if they are new business enterprises, and affected by natural or human-induced calamities.
Same as exemptions, any party aggrieved in this Wage Order may file an appeal to the NWPC through RTWPB-6 10 days after the publication.
Dole-6 records showed that there about 70,000 establishments in the region covered by the new Wage Order.
Most of these enterprises are under the service sectors, at about 60,000.
"We are among the first regions in the country to come up with a new Wage Order after the implementation of Train law," Cañete added.