LOCAL workers groups insisted on Labor Day that there should be minimum wage increase for private sector workers in Western Visayas, including Negros Occidental.
Philippine Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Workers Union-Trade Union of Congress of the Philippines (Paciwu-TUCP) national president Hernane Braza, who spoke at the labor forum held at Gerald's Restobar in Bacolod City Wednesday, May 1, asserted that there is a need to increase the salary of the workers as many of them are still plunged into poverty.
Braza, also a labor representative of the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB) in Western Visayas, said many minimum wage earner-households are not able to buy their viand three times a day.
"Businesses, on the other hand, continue to earn profit," he said, adding that "we respect the usual gesture of the management particularly its hesitation to provide a wage increase for their workers."
The local labor sector is reacting to the earlier pronouncement of Frank Carbon, chief executive officer of Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI), that they are not thinking of minimum wage increase this time.
Carbon told SunStar Bacolod that the P73 to P100 wage increase to be petitioned by labor groups is too high and nobody can afford it.
Possibly, what employers can provide is just a cost of living allowance (Cola), which they can just withdraw, anytime, if necessary.
"There is a need to put balance on the need of both labor and business," he said, adding the issue on wage should not be seen as one way, not only on the labor side.
For the labor, however, the decision of the Wage Board is not a decision of the labor or management alone.
Braza said it is a collegial decision, which means all sectors are represented.
"There will be an opportunity to deny or justify why the wage increase is not applicable as of this time. But on our end, we will push for its realization," he added.
His counterpart in the RTWPB Western Visayas Wennie Sancho, who was also at the forum, said they respect the position of the business group.
Sancho, also the secretary general of General Alliance of Workers Associations (Gawa), said the management has always been "opposing" to the wage being demanded by the labor.
"If they cannot afford, they can file a petition for exemption," he said, adding that labor groups maintained to a file a petition for wage hike in June, a month before Wage Order 24 expires.
Under the existing Wage Order, current minimum wage rates in the region, which include the Cola, are P295 and P365 per day depending on workers' classification.
'Protect sugar industry'
In the bid to protect the sugar industry, labor groups in Negros Occidental also launched during the forum a national movement dubbed Sugar Watch Philippines (SWP).
The organization initially composed of 46 labor groups and unions, mostly under the umbrella of Save the Sugar Industry Movement (SSIM), will serve as watch dog against the plan of the government to liberalize sugar industry.
Braza and Sancho were appointed as national chairman and secretary general, respectively. Other labor leaders and union representatives will serve as co-convenors.
SWP convenors, in a declaration of solidarity statement, said they condemn in the strongest possible terms the proposed sugar import liberalization because it would obliterate the local industry thereby displacing thousands of sugar workers and their families.
The statement stated that the proponents of the sugar import liberalization came to announce the blessings, but they did not dare to point out the danger from afar -- severe economic suffering, joblessness, hunger and poverty.
"We must have the courage and the fortitude to oppose and manifest our dissent against any and all attempts to deregulate the importation of sugar," it said, adding "we shall firmly stand up with strength and determination to defend the interests of the sugar workers."
"This unwavering firmness is the cornerstone of our opposition," the convenors added.
Illegal Chinese workers
Aside from wage and sugar import liberalization, labor groups also centered the issue on the alleged proliferation of Chinese workers in the country, including in Western Visayas.
Sancho said about 181,000 workers in the region were unemployed as of April 2018, but it was reported that a significant number of Chinese workers were employed in Panay, particularly in Boracay Island.
Sancho said the Filipinos rights to work in their own country were stolen by Chinese foreigners who are receiving salaries three times higher than a Filipino minimum wage earner.
The government is looking the other way while the rights of the Filipino workers are being trampled upon, the labor groups claimed.
"It is an insult to us who are celebrating the International Labor Day, because the Chinese were given preference to work and takeover our right to work. Isn't it an affront to our dignity?" he added.
Also, the labor sector announced that the new wage order setting an increase of P500 in the monthly wage of domestic workers or "kasambahays" in the region will take effect on May 8 this year.
From the previous P3,500, all "kasambahays" are entitled to receive P4,000.