AS THEY marked the celebration of International Labor Day on May 1, local labor leaders have lamented that the call for wage increase for private sector workers in Western Visayas, including Negros Occidental, is an upheaval battle.

Labor representative to the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB)-Western Visayas Wennie Sancho, during the press conference at the Negros Press Club Building in Bacolod City in commemoration of the International Labor Day on Saturday, May 1, said salary hike for minimum wage earners in the region remains dim.

Sancho, also the secretary general of General Alliance of Workers Associations (Gawa), reiterated that management representatives had earlier disapproved of the labor sector's manifestation for a Pandemic Emergency Relief Assistance (Pera) of P25 per day.

"Though the National Wage Productivity Commission (NWPC) earlier clarified that the Board may act on the minimum wage determination, personally, I am pessimistic that wage increase will be realized," he said, adding that "once discussions have been done, the labor sector will still be outvoted by other members of the Wage Board."

If there is no salary hike by November this year, it will be two years already that private sector workers in the region have not received any adjustment on their wages.

Under Wage Order 25, which already lapsed in November 2020, minimum wage workers in the region earn from P310 to P395 per day depending on their classification.

A P30 daily pay hike was provided for workers among non-agriculture, industrial and commercial establishments employing more than 10 employees.

From the previous P350 plus cost of living allowance (Cola) of P15, totaling P365 per day, the prevailing rate is P395.

Employees from establishments with less than 10 workers are receiving additional P15, making the wage rate P310 per day.

For the agricultural sector, plantation workers received a P20 increase. From the previous P295 per day, the existing minimum wage rate under this sector is P315.

Philippine Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (Paciwu) national president Hernani Braza, who was also present at the press conference, said their request for a relief allowance was immediately scrapped by the Wage Board without even subjecting it to a public hearing.

Braza, who served as labor representative of the RTWPB-6 until March this year, said Paciwu is keen on filing a petition for a P73 to 91 daily wage increase.

"Using the socio-economic data that we have, we intend to file a petition for wage hike in December this year. What's important is for the Board to set a deliberation, rather than nothing," he said.

The labor leader added that "if nothing happens, we will ask the employers to give us 30 percent of their net profit which will then be distributed to workers as a form of wage increase."

In the labor manifesto of solidarity signed by 16 labor union leaders in the province, they said that for centuries, the workers are begging for just compensation and alleviation of the economic hardship.

"Unfortunately, these simple and just demands were ignored by the capitalist and the government as well," the labor leaders said, adding that "our cry for labor justice fell on deaf ears, the answers to our questions were blown away by the wind. The workers in substantial ways are enslaved."

Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the labor sector said that from January 2020 to January 2021, there was an increase in unemployment rate from 5.6 percent to 9.1 percent involving about 312,900 workers in the region.

It said unemployment rose from 12.9 percent to 21.1 percent involving 659,493 workers. Inflation also increased from 3.01 to 3.8 percent and purchasing power of the peso went down from P79.67 to P0.77.

The manifesto stated that the nominal wage of P395 per day was reduced to P304.15 in terms of real wage. A worker loses about P90.85 per day due to the deterioration of the purchasing power.

Thus, economically, the situation is getting worse. Unemployment is about 4.2 million nationwide, it said.

"Amid the pandemic, we are faced with massive unemployment and unequal distribution of wealth without safety nets. Despite claims for economic growth, it is clear that the economy is hardly growing at all particularly with the imposition of additional restrictions," it added.

Moreover, at least 800 members of Church Peoples and Workers Coalition, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-Negros, commemorated the Labor Day by holding a protest in Bacoldo City.

They trooped from the Lupit Church going to the city's public plaza to press for their various demands from the government.

Among these concerns were the distribution of P10,000 cash aid for those who are unemployed and underemployed, the P100 daily wage subsidy for private employees and P15,000 agricultural subsidy for farm workers.

Carrying their placards and streamers, the laborers held a short program at the plaza where they also decried the alleged attacks on trade unionists and mass leaders especially in Negros.

In his Labor Day message, meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte said the country has found a new meaning in its annual commemoration of Labor Day.

Duterte said "this year, we honor our Filipino workers who -- fueled not just by desire to support their families and advance their careers -- have tirelessly toiled these past several months to ensure that our society will continue to function in the face of an unprecedented health crisis that crippled industries across the world."

He assured that "this administration will endeavor to work as vigorously as you have in creating an environment where security of tenure, statutory labor standards and workers' right are not only upheld and protected, but also cherished as the foundations of a strong and thriving workforce."