By Rochelle Porras, executive director of Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research
We question the timeliness of the constitutional change (cha-cha) amid low wages and high inflation rates. The concern comes after the airing of TV ads by Pirma group and signature campaigns urging support for cha-cha.
According to Pirma, economic growth is stunted due to the restrictive constitutional provisions on foreign land and equity ownership and relaxing such provisions will lead to growth. However, our study on Special Economic Zones (SEZs) explained that such was not the case. Decades of foreign direct investments (FDIs) being poured on these zones did not lead to any significant industrial expansion in the Philippines. Worse, these zones are notorious for repressive labor policies, inhumane working conditions and low compensation.
Charter change should be the least of our lawmakers’ concerns. The government must focus its resources and time in addressing gut issues of workers such as low wages, high prices of basic commodities, and widespread job insecurity, among others.
Monthly salaries of minimum wage earners fall below the monthly poverty threshold across all regions in the country. In the National Capital Region (NCR), the minimum wage workers only earn on average P13,218 monthly while the poverty threshold is at P13,741. This means that workers’ wages are barely half of the living wage standard set at P25,839.
Worker’s wages cannot catch up with the prices of basic goods. The inflation rate for 2023 was at six percent, higher than the 5.8 percent the year before. Low wages are further stunted by rapidly increasing prices.
We noted that the real wages in NCR stagnated relatively since 2002. Real wage refers to wages adjusted for inflation. The real wage in Metro Manila is at P496 in 2022, barely higher than the P490 in 2002. In the case of BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) where regional rates are the lowest, the real wage is at P294 only in 2022 and is even lower than the 2002 rate at P298.
Congress is empowered by law to legislate pro-people policies without the need to amend the Constitution. We express our strong support to the solons who have authored bills for the implementation of living wages, as well as to the labor groups who have long been petitioning for wage hikes. We call on the Marcos Jr. Administration to regulate oil prices, suspend excise taxes and to tax the super-rich.