Labor groups, especially the militant, were unimpressed.  Democrito Mendoza, president of the moderate Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, spoke of the workers’ plight in his speech with the President in attendance – a way of looking from another angle:

“Many are still jobless, many families have no homes, and many are going hungry.  It’s time workers felt the improvement in the economy. Workers are entitled to their fair share of the fruits of the economy.”  Then, to the President, “We hope you listen to us.”

As the President avowed her government’s generosity to the workers, Mendoza implied that the workers needed more than that – not just generosity but “fair share”.  Being taken for naïve or mendicant, the workers are really not that.  Behind the spin and rhetoric from the Palace, they see “generosity” as not “fair share”.

Package List

The package list was not really that impressive. It contained benefits that by existing policies and laws the workers are already entitled to, or, that are rehashed proposals unfulfilled in the past.  It may be good for public consumption but nothing closer to “fair share”. And why wait for Labor Day to present the package yearly? 

Wage increase through the tripartite regional wage board is an existing mechanism that has supplanted legislated wage increases. The President’s order that the boards hasten the processing of petitions for increase is not a consolation.  If the wage hike granted would barely meet inflation, there is no real wage increase.

We’ve already discussed in our last “Comment” the order not to deduct withholding tax from minimum wage earners. The minimum wage is unjustly low. Non-deduction on paydays does not remedy the injustice. Even making minimum wage earners tax exempt by law is not an act of justice unless the real minimum wage meets the cost of living.

The generation of 1.5 million jobs (1.6 million in an earlier report of, May 1) in one year – January 2006 to January 2007 – is questionable. How many were permanent jobs? How many were 3-month-cycle “emergency” jobs?  Comparing that to the 500,000 jobs past administrations created in two years was raw propaganda.

All the other items in the package were selective “fringe benefits” – already being enjoyed according to government policies or new incentives benefiting only a few like the Gwapotel of questionable viability. Their benefits should be appreciated but surely they are not “fair share” that Mendoza said the workers are entitled to.

Fair Share

“Fair share of the fruits of the economy” evokes the principle of just sharing between capital and labor of the means and end of production – the investors putting in the capital and the workers investing talent and labor. Is it “fair share” when both capital and labor are factored in as cost of production but only capital is entitled to profits?

“Fair share of the fruits of the economy” demands that government spends state revenues for the benefit of all including the workers.  Is it “fair share” when infrastructures are geared to the development of industry and the expansion of capital while the workers are left to fend on their income from wages and salaries below the cost of living?

The tyranny is that government and industry connive in keeping wages low in order to attract more investors, especially the foreign.  Government makes foreign loans to improve ports, airports, roads, communication and other infrastructures to attract investors.

If the Philippine economy, as President Arroyo boasts, is “booming” that is not because of investments alone – of capital – but largely due to the workers who sacrifice working with low pay to give investors more profit.  Yet, President Arroyo tells the workers just to wait for the benefits of the economy to trickle down to them.  Is that “fair share”?

Not Impossible

Was Mendoza asking President Arroyo for the impossible?  Workers know the fruits of the economy are partly fruits of their labor.  They are only asking for a fair share of their part in the fruits of the economy.  I think the President knows that.

What needs be done to give workers a fair share of the fruits of the economy?  Certain policies have to be revised and laws passed.  Government has to study this problem.  Can giving workers their fair share be possible?  Yes, because it has to be.  The alternative for not doing is continued social discontent and perpetual poverty.

The President knows this.  And she knows that the package of non-wage benefits that she dangles to the workers every Labor Day is not the fair share of the fruits of the economy the workers are entitled to.

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.")