P470 hike in Metro Manila daily minimum wage sought amid rising prices

Ramon Royandoyan - Philstar.com
P470 hike in Metro Manila daily minimum wage sought amid rising prices
Commuters ride a packed jeepney in Marikina City on the first day of implementation of loosened pandemic restrictions under Alert Level 1 on Monday, March 1, 2022. Under this status, Public utility vehicles are allowed to operate with 100% capacity.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — A labor group on Monday asked the government to approve a new round of increase in minimum wage in Metro Manila to protect workers from a pandemic-induced inflation surge that’s worsened by rising oil prices.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) filed a petition before the National Capital Region-Regional Wages and Productivity Board for a P470 hike that, if approved, would increase the daily minimum wage in the capital region to P1,007 from the current rate of P537.

The last time the minimum wage in Metro Manila was adjusted to cope with rising prices was in 2018, when tight rice supply and a weak peso pushed up inflation to a near-decade high. The TUCP said they asked for another wage hike in 2019, but it was rejected.

In 2021, inflation breached the state’s 2-4% annual target as easing mobility restrictions boosted demand while strong typhoons and the continued spread of African swine fever caused food supply problems. A spike in inflation would typically prompt Filipino workers to call for a wage hike, but some labor groups held back from asking for an increase last year over fears that doing so would only exacerbate pandemic-induced business shutdowns that could leave more workers jobless and hungry.

It was an unusual sacrifice that workers directly hit by expensive food prices took at the time, if that meant keeping their jobs during the hard times. But TUCP said those sacrifices are now over amid rallying oil prices as a result of the Ukraine-Russia war.

“In 2019, our wage petition was dismissed. In 2020, CoVid 19 took its toll on us. In 2021, we fought to recover, and endured. Today, we make an action for and behalf of the poor workers and their families in Metro Manila – we are waging war against poverty, we are aiming for wage that will save our lives,” TUCP President Raymond Democrito Mendoza said in a statement.

TUCP was not the first labor group to call for wage hikes amid surging oil prices. Partido Manggagawa called on Congress to increase the minimum wage by P100. Meanwhile, Kilusang Mayo Uno wanted to add P750 to the minimum wage.

At the heart of TUCP's petition was the persistent issue of hunger and malnutrition. The group cited data from United Nations Children's Fund showing that one out of three Filipino children are stunted. "An unhealthy and less productive workforce means a less competitive economy," TUCP said.

To further justify their request, TUCP said the present monthly take home pay of P12,843.48  is far below the P16, 625.00 per month poverty threshold for a family of five in the NCR.

"Clearly, our minimum wage earners and their families have fallen from the category of low-income to newly poor. This is a sad commentary on the social condition in our country where those who break their backs to sustain and expand the economy are now wallowing in poverty,” Mendoza added.

The labor department already ordered a review of the current minimum wage level, but stressed that any adjustments will have to be a balancing act between workers and businesses. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the minimum wage cannot be very low as it will have very small effect in protecting workers. If set too high, Bello said the adjustment will have an adverse effect on businesses. 

Sought for comment, Sergio Ortiz-Luis, president of Employers Confederation of the Philippines, said the while big corporations can afford a bigger compensation for employees, it might not be the case for small business, which account for over 90% of enterprises in the Philippines.

“There’s no way those small ones could pay for that,” Ortiz-Luis said in a phone interview. "The government probably has to meet that."

But TUCP is firm with their plea. “This is a race against time for the survival of millions of workers and their families who fell through the cracks and became the newly poor of our society. There (sic) dire conditions should be improved without delay by approving our desired minimum wage increase,” Mendoza said. — with a report from Xave Gregorio

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