The bill has been pending in the House for six years. The P125-increase is six years behind reality if six years ago that amount was what could bridge the difference between income and cost of living. In six years, cost of living has more than doubled. How can the P125 bridge the income-cost of living gap now?
Worse! The P125 will be staggered: P45 this year; P40 in 2008; and P40 in 2009, granting that the Senate can pass its own version, the Senate and the House versions are reconciled and passed before they adjourn, then the President signs the measure into law.
The Senate version is still on the committee hearing stage. The proposal is a P100-across the board one-shot increase. Certainly, P100 has a stronger economic impact than the staggered House proposal.
But either the House or the Senate version cannot even be considered a stop-gap. In October 2006, a family of six in Metro Manila had to earn P674 a day to live – the cost of living. But the minimum wage was – and still is – P350 a day.
We have no ready comparative cost of living-minimum wage statistics for the different regions. The pattern is: In the provinces, the cost of living is lower than in Metro Manila but the minimum wage is also lower.
The exception is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where according to
an Inquirer report, the cost of living is P1,005 daily against the P200 daily minimum wage. Unbelievable? No! Families in the ARMM can be bigger – not the standard six – partly, if not largely, due to polygamy.
While the House has already passed HB 345, it has not yet transmitted this to the Senate. When the Senate can pass its own version, no one knows. Will the Senate just adopt the House bill as labor is urging it to do? There are not many days left for the present Congress before final adjournment. What with the 2007 election closing in?
The six-year delay in passing HB 345 revealed how concerned congressmen have
been of the welfare of labor. Passing it close to election is a political gambit — a way of courting labor votes. Will labor bite?
But passing it so close to election and still delaying its transmission to the Senate has another leery, malicious implication. Probably, the congressmen did not really want the law enacted. However, by passing HB 345, they have washed the blame off their hands. Let labor blame the non-enactment on the Senate.
Even if the Senate acts fast enough and a minimum wage legislated law is sent to the President, labor still has to hold its breath. Will the President sign or veto it? The employers are against legislated wage increase. And so is the Department of Labor and Employment.
Good, if the President will just not sign it. That will lapse into a law after 30 days. But if vetoed, the proposal is dead. Congress will no longer have the time to override a veto.
Even if a new minimum wage law is enacted out of HB 345 alone or merged with the Senate version, the Arroyo administration must seriously consider realistic wage policies. It looks odd that the President has been talking about reforms but not labor reform for the benefit of the labor class.
The government's concept of "living wage" is flawed. It means it to be the total amount of income of all members of the family. If the standard six-member family can earn a total of P674 in Metro Manila, it has met its "living wage" even if the minimum wage is only P350. What if only the father is employed in a family of six?
In the government's concept, "minimum wage" is not necessarily "living wage". If the President and her policy makers would only give this a more serious thought, they will understand why despite their so-called anti-poverty program poverty, rather than being overtaken, is out-racing them.
To be just and realistic, "minimum wage" must be "living wage". As Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical [Laboreum Excelsens], "family wage" is a single salary given to the head of the family for his work, sufficient for the needs of the family without the other spouse having to take up gainful employment outside of the home.
In this concept, "minimum wage" is "living wage" is "family wage". If other members of the family are employed, much of their earnings can go to family saving and for investment in order to increase the family income. Such is antidote to poverty.
Family conditions in the Philippines can be alarming. The father may not even be regularly employed. He, his wife and children take odd jobs to eke out enough to partially meet the daily cost of living. In extreme cases, small children beg. Such is the social condition feeding poverty and crying for reform.
Is it possible to have "minimum wage" equal "living wage" equal "family wage"? That is the challenge to the Arroyo administration or any other administration after her – the imperative of calling for just and sincere social and economic reforms?
How many times has President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pronounced publicly that the economy is growing but the benefits are not yet trickling down to the poor? That's a confession that in our social and economic system the labor class is deprived of their just share of the economy.
While in Vietnam for the APEC conference, she proudly told the Filipinos welcoming her that *statistically* the Philippines is now a middle-class economy. That is by the per capita income which is the average of the total income of the country divided by the total population.
However, looking at the social and economic realities besetting the labor class, the President's statistics only showed how skewed toward the few rich is economic growth. That calls for some reforms.
No matter how little, labor welcomes the six-year delayed HB 345. Will it be enacted into law? Will the Arroyo administration look seriously into the condition of the labor class and do drastic just reforms? ("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.")