[PHOTO - MANILA. President Benigno Simeon Aquino III delivers his Labor Day speech to respond to various issues presented by labor sector representatives during the Breakfast/Dialogue with the Labor Leaders at the Heroes Hall, Malacanang Sunday May 01, 2011. (Contributed photo)]

MANILA, MAY 2, 2011 (STAR) By Sheila Crisostomo - The country celebrates its first Labor Day under the Aquino administration today with calls from the labor sector for President Aquino to uplift their standard of living.

The Philippine National Police went on full alert as part of its security preparations for today's celebration, anticipating a huge rally dubbed as the People's Day of Outrage Protest from the labor sector.

The Migrante-Middle East has demanded the implementation of the P125 across-the-board salary adjustment to enable Filipino families to somehow cope with the rising cost of living.

"The Aquino government can't conceal the real economic situation of the Philippines under this young regime," noted Migrante-Middle East's John Leonard Monterona.

He claimed there are "relevant facts" that could attest to the worsening condition in the labor front, including the country's increasing unemployment rate, which was about 7.1 percent in January 2011; increasing number of urban poor and squatters; corruption in government and the growing numbers of jobless and the increasing cost of living.

"A family with six members needs to earn P960 daily while many of the workers are only receiving a minimum wage of P420 a day," Monterona added.

He said the Aquino administration is also dependent on the remittances of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to keep the economy afloat.

"Because of this, the government is intensifying the export of cheap Filipino labor. Grinding poverty left no other option to many disgruntled workers and farmers, and new graduates looking for work abroad will end up as construction workers, domestic helpers, and others hoping to be employed in the service sectors," he said.

He, however, warned that demands for foreign workers abroad is dwindling because of the "shrinking and very competitive labor market, the deepening global financial crisis, and internal strife in the North African and Middle Eastern countries."

"(An) increasing numbers of prospective Filipino migrant workers would be facing a hard time getting a job abroad amid the burden of numerous government fees and charges imposed on aspiring OFWs before finally leaving the country for work," he said.

Monterona charged that just like in the previous administrations, the Aquino government, "in its less than a year in office, by all indications will miserably fail to uplift the condition of the Filipino workers."

A balancing act

Regional Tripartite, Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB) Cordilera official Teodoro Delson said labor groups' demand for a P125 wage is possible, "but it can only be done on a staggered basis."

"The RTWPB is not deaf and blind on the welfare of the working sector but they also need to balance the needs of the employers' sector as well. We understand an increase is needed but we need to balance in accordance with the requirements of Congress," Delson said.

In its most recent meeting, the RTWPB-Cordillera ruled out any immediate need for a hike this year, following a P12 increase imposed earlier this year.

The board said the increase as far as transportation cost and basic commodities are concerned have been minimal.

Employers' representatives who appeared at the meeting said the price of commodities remains stable and residents can still cope with the recent oil price increases.

Instead of hikes in wages, the RTWPB is convincing employers to consider giving non-wage benefits to their workers that include medical and dental benefits, paid sick leaves, pension plans, educational benefits, full-time work instead of offering part time to avoid providing benefits, maternity and paternity leaves, child care assistance and paid vacations, among others.

[PHOTO - Workers burn an effigy of President Aquino on his Porsche as they demand a P125 across-the-board wage increase during the commemoration of Labor Day in Manila yesterday. AP]

But the militant labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU)-Cordillera disagreed with the labor department and the RTWPB that there is no supervening condition that would necessitate a wage increase.

The current minimum wage in the Cordillera Region stands at P260, which is not even half of the P972 daily cost of living for a family of five, it said.

"The immediate passage of House Bill 735 that shall give a legislated P125 wage increase across-the-board and across-the-nation will give the workers and their families immediate relief from their heavy burden," Leonida Tundagui, KMU-Cordillera spokesperson said.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz refused to preempt the announcement that will be made by President Aquino in today's celebration but clarified there would be no pronouncement on salary adjustment.

But despite this, Baldoz said that the President gives utmost priority to the "strengthening of the foundation of inclusive growth" in all government sectors.

Inclusive growth pertains to the "sustained growth that massively creates jobs, draw the vast majority into the economic and social mainstream and continuously reduces mass poverty."

It is the main direction of the government's 2011-2016 Philippine Development Plan.

Baldoz added that President Aquino might make a statement about the labor sectors that need support, including the agriculture industry, which has been neglected by the past administration.

Meaningful laws eyed

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the government must not just focus on approving measures that have long-term benefits for the workers but also on the enhancement of the overall quality of life.

In his Labor Day message, Belmonte stressed that the House of Representatives is working on approving measures that have long-term benefits for the workers and for the nation's economy in general.

"Today we salute the Filipino workers both here and abroad for their valuable contributions towards building our nation," he said. – With Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano, Artemio Dumlao, Pia Lee-Brago

FROM THE SUN-STAR BLOG Sunday, May 1, 2011

Labor groups, prelate slam Aquino's 'good news'

[PHOTO - MANILA. President Benigno Simeon Aquino III delivers his Labor Day speech to respond to various issues presented by labor sector representatives during the Breakfast/Dialogue with the Labor Leaders at the Heroes Hall, Malacanang Sunday May 01, 2011. (Contributed photo)]

MANILA -- Laborers and a Church official hit the government Sunday for opting to grant non-wage benefits for the workers and common employers, saying the package would not benefit most of them.

Aquino, in a breakfast meeting with labor groups on Sunday, revealed his non-wage benefit package to the workers, including subsidies totaling P4.3 billion for farmers and fisherfolk.

He also announced some one million jobs to be made available through the Community-Based Employment Program for infrastructure projects and Special Program for Employment of Students.

The President said these promises cannot be made "overnight", but he assured the labor groups that the government is studying their concerns.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), however, told Aquino in a statement that his "promises" would not appease the laborers but instead ignite their anger further.

"Band-aid solutions being offered by the Aquino regime will not dissipate this outrage but will only ignite it even further," said the KMU.

The group hinted that only a significant wage hike and the return of sufficient government subsidies could satisfy their relentless calls.

"The targets of our continuing outrage are the unabated oil price hikes and overpricing of oil, the Aquino regime's efforts to deny a significant wage hike through the regional wage boards, and cuts in subsidies to education and social services," said the group.

This was seconded by another workers' group, the Alliance for Progressive Labor (APL), which said Aquino should address this problem sooner rather than later.

"PNoy (Aquino) needs to work overtime and address the growing frustration if workers, who continue to believe in him that they are his collective boss... Otherwise, the workers might think of kicking him out," said the APL in a separate statement.

The Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) also refused to accept the non-wage benefits, reminding Aquino that it should not be used as a substitute to wage adjustments. manila-labor-day-president-aquino-2011-05-02 MANILA. President Benigno Simeon Aquino III delivers his Labor Day speech to respond to various issues presented by labor sector representatives during the Breakfast/Dialogue with the Labor Leaders at the Heroes Hall, Malacanang Sunday May 01, 2011. (Contributed photo)

"On his first Labor Day, PNoy brings no good news for the workers, just a consuelo de bobo. Non-wage benefits should complement not supplant a wage hike," said PM.

At least 5,000 workers gathered Sunday in Mendiola in Manila to mark Labor Day and protest the anti-labor stance of the Aquino administration. Other labor organizations also merged at the Liwasang Bonifacio also in Manila. Similar activities were also held in Davao City and Pampanga province.

The protesters got the support of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (Nassa) chairman Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who finds it unfortunate how the government chose not to heed the much-sought salary hike by the workers.

"Yung mga non-wage benefits e marami ang hindi naman talaga nakakatulong sa mga manggagawa lalo na sa mga hindi regular (Most of the workers, especially those that are not regular employees, don't benefit from the non-wage benefits)," said Pabillo.

He cited as an example how a contractual employee can benefit from having additional sick leaves if he or she is not even entitled to one.

He said Aquino's refusal to heed the workers' call only proves that he is siding with the "powerful" capitalists.

Malacañang, however, had said it is leaving the wage adjustment calls to the respective regional wage boards as required by the law.

President Aquino said during the breakfast meeting Sunday that he ordered the regional tripartite wage boars to fast-track their deliberations so that all regions would benefit from the wage adjustment.

He announced that government workers will get salary increases as early as June, as the release of fund for the third tranche of the wage hike for them under the Salary Standardization Law III will be ahead of one month.

"The third tranche of our Salary Standardization...would be released in June and not July," he said.

The country's largest association of private schools, however, warned the government Sunday that clamor for a wage increase for public and private sector employees may lead to closure of their schools.

Eleazardo Kasilag, president of the 9,995-member Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators (Fapsa), said private schools always dread the coming of Labor Day as there are always clamor for pay hike of public and private sector workers despite the fact that majority of them are themselves in a tight financial squeeze.

Kasilag admitted that some of their members are not following the official daily wage rate in the National Capital Region (NCR) pegged at P404 due to the financial problems they are encountering and the decline in the number of enrollees.

Of the 1,937 private schools in the NCR, some 1,600 are members of Fapsa.

"Some private schools could not even give the current floor wage rate in Metro Manila pegged at P404 daily and some schools have closed shop. Some of our members can give teachers only P6,000 to P7,500 a month," Kasilag said.

He added that most of them do not enjoy the 10 percent Return of Investment (ROI) of the government. "The ROI is given back to augment teachers' pay yet we still get complaints from our mentors."

He said these difficulties led some of their members to recall plans to hike tuition this coming school year, adding that unlike public schools, they have no other way to look for funding than the fees collected from their students as they are not subsidized by the state.

He asked the regional tripartite wage boards to also consider their plight before deciding on a wage increase. (AMN/Jill Beltran/AH/Sunnex)


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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