Tell it to SunStar: How bad life is for ordinary workers

Tell it to SunStar
Tell it to SunStarSunStar file photo

By Partido Manggagawa spokesman Dennis Derige

We can try to understand how employers feel about the pending wage hike proposals in Congress. But their permanent opposition to any proposal since time immemorial speaks volumes about their regard for the lives of ordinary workers in our country.

We see them constantly opposed to any wage hike proposal at the level of regional wage boards since 1989, and against the legislated wage proposals since 1999.

In other words, they will cry wolf against any wage proposal, but neglect to mention how workers suffered a life of poverty. They won’t tell us that GDP (gross domestic product) and labor productivity more than doubled during the last three decades, but real wages of workers remained flat.

In fact, even as they up the hype of apocalyptic death of local industry and El Niño of foreign investors, the fact remains that minimum wages all over the country fall under the national poverty threshold of P13,797 per month for a family of five. The same is true when economic managers assure everyone that GDP will remain within the six percent trajectory. That won’t change the fact that after 35 years under the regional wage boards, guided by thousands of pages of Philippine Development Plans, more than 20 percent of our population remains poor, or close to half, according to the latest SWS survey on self-rated poverty.

The problem is that employers don’t feel this way as they always view wage hikes, union rights and equitable distribution of wealth as anti-business. But we don’t require them to have a change of heart, in the same way workers won’t stop asking for fair share in the social wealth they have been creating for centuries.

Why then is legislative action necessary for wage hikes? Simply put, the regionalization of wages under Republic Act 6727 was an epic failure. The highest wage rates, 35 years after, still fall short of meeting the poverty threshold. Moreover, regional wage policies have not succeeded in attracting investments to the country’s poorer regions, despite being one of the law’s intended objectives. There is also a low level of investment despite this low wage regime incentive.

We understand Ecop’s (Employers Confederation of the Philippines) emphasis on micro-enterprises as a central argument against wage hikes. However, framing the issue as a choice between inflation, unemployment, and small businesses overlooks the broader benefits of ensuring workers receive fair compensation. We maintain that our call for legislated wage hikes is not intended to harm small businesses; rather, we believe that the positive ripple effects of higher take-home pay extend further than keeping wages at starvation levels.

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