Aquino calls for wage hikes

BusinessWorld

Posted at May 02 2011 11:32 AM | Updated as of May 02 2011 07:32 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A Metro Manila minimum wage hike could be announced as early as next week after President Benigno S. C. Aquino, speaking at a Labor Day celebration, ordered deliberations to be fast-tracked.

As militant groups staged protests against rising prices, Mr. Aquino said the government was also setting aside funds to help affected sectors, providing temporary employment to students, and moving pay hikes for state workers forward.

With several regional boards having declared the existence of a "supervening condition" -- "extraordinary" fuel price hikes -- to justify minimum wage adjustments less than a year from the last increase, the President said decisions should start being issued this month.

"We expect by next week that there will be a wage order for the NCR (National Capital Region). Region 6 (Western Visayas) ... we expect them to [also] issue the appropriate order," Mr. Aquino said, partly in Filipino, during a breakfast meeting with labor leaders.

The wage boards in both regions have declared supervening conditions that allow them to begin deliberations and order adjustments before a 12-month proscription period ends.

"In Region 8 (Eastern Visayas), it has been two years now without any wage increase, and within the month we believe that they will be able to complete the process for this," Mr. Aquino added.

Government workers, meanwhile, will be receiving their Salary Standardization Law III (SSL III) third tranche increases in June rather than July, the President said.

Mr. Aquino said the government would also be setting aside P2 billion to help farmers and fisherfolk purchase inputs on top of a P4.23-billion rice subsidy that would be released this month instead of June.

The President announced that funding for the Special Program for Employment of Students, which allows students to avail of jobs while on break, had been increased to P168.1 million, adding 52,000 beneficiaries to the original target of 80,000.

The rest of the country’s wage boards, meanwhile, will "determine the presence of a supervening event within the month," Mr. Aquino said.

"We assume that was has happened in NCR and Region 6 also has happened as a supervening event in the other regions so we will be pressing them to finalize everything ... We cannot promise that within the month everybody will be finished, but we will be pressing them," he said.

The Metro Manila wage board is scheduled to hold its first public hearing tomorrow on the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines’ petition for a P75 across-the-board adjustment.

"[Early adjustments in the] NCR, Region 6 and Region 8 are feasible, because the action plans are already prepared, so it’s possible to issue within the month," National Wages and Productivity Wage Board Deputy Director Patricia P. Hornilla yesterday said.

"For the other regions, it is already the anniversary of the wage orders, so it’s really possible within the year," she added.

"If it’s a directive by the President, then the board will follow ... This is not the first time that a President has done that."

A P22 per day increase was ordered by the Metro Manila wage board last June, bringing private sector daily minimum wages in the metropolis to a range of P367-404.

Region 6 minimum wages were raised by P15 in August last year to P223-265, while in Region 8 -- its wage board is the only one not to have adjusted wages since 2008 -- the range is currently at P198.50-238.

Since 1989, wage fixing has been done at the regional level by virtue of Republic Act 6727. The law took the power to fix wages from Congress and turned this over to regional tripartite boards where labor, management and the government are represented. The law limits adjustments to once every 12 months unless supervening conditions exist. Annual increases have been implemented since the law took effect, except in 2009 during the global economic downturn.

With regard to the pay hikes for government workers, Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad said an executive order was now ready for the President’s signature and could be issued within the week, together with a memorandum order that is needed for the early release of state agencies’ mid-year bonuses.

He said P2.8 billion would be required for the SSL III tranche while P14.9 billion was needed for the midyear bonuses.

"We hope that the early implementation of SSL III third tranche and the early release of mid-year bonuses will help government employees cope with rising costs of commodities...," Mr. Abad said in a statement.

Labor organizations, however, were less than pleased at Mr. Aquino’s pronouncements.

"There’s nothing new to what he said. We really want oil deregulation," Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Vice-Chairperson Lito Ustarez said in Filipino.

The militant KMU has rejected wage adjustments by the regional boards, pushing Congress to legislate a P125 per day across-the-board increase.