COMMENT: Still No Luck

Opposed, too, were the Department of Labor, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines and the business communities in general. The National Economic and Development Authority warned of “the disastrous effects of the bill on the economy”.


The House must have been unnerved. Rep. Jesus Remulla (Cavite), on January 22, moved to recall HB 345 on a very ridiculous pretext: “to allow further consultations with concerned sectors”.  During its six-year pendency, all “concerned sectors” had not been consulted?


It has not been reported if the Remulla motion has been approved in the plenary session. Once recalled, HB 345 has a slim chance of passing before Congress adjourns as it will be subject to amendments – most probably radically changing its provisions.  House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles foresaw this.


Would Confirm


The move, especially if approved in the plenary session, would confirm the insincerity of the House already glaring in its six-year inaction. It would also confirm its confusion due to mixed signals from the President.


On one or two occasions last year, to appease labor, the President asked Congress to consider legislative wage increase. Last January 24, Philippine Daily Inquirer reported: “Palace backs moves to withhold P125-wage hike bill” — a misstatement.


On passing HB 345 last December, the House urged the Senate to pass its own version or, implying, be blamed should the P125-wage increase law not be signed by the President before Congress adjourns.  Evidently, it was a political game – playing to win the vote of labor in the May election.


In its same story reporting the House recall move, the Philippine Daily Inquirer also said: “The Senate has adopted the House version of the bill.” However, PDI continued’ the Senate had changed the effectivity date of the bill from October 2006 to January 2007.


The House recall move speaks volumes about its “sincere” concern for labor and its being so much beholden to Malacañang and the vested business interests.


Same Fear


The rock-strong opposition to HB 345 stands on the same oft-repeated fear – that business firms, especially the small and medium, will close or retrench resulting in loss of employment.  The non-passage of the legislated wage increase, it is argued, is for the benefit of labor.


“Let’s stick to the regional wage boards,” Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, told reporters believing that “the wage boards, not Congress, remain the best venue to determine wage hikes”. 


Labor, outvoted in the tripartite board – DOLE, the third party in the board, being known to be employer-leaning – disputes the claim and the debate will have no ending with labor holding its bag of arguments to no avail. 


For instance, last year, the wage boards granted the National Capital Region P37-increase; Region I, P3 to P13; Region II, P10; and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, P5.  Other regions were surely not more lucky. That much the employers could grudgingly grant to the satisfaction of DOLE.


“Thank the employers for their generosity; make do with that” was how DOLE consoled labor even if it knew that from its own statistics, despite the increases, the minimum wages were still less than half the costs of living in the regions.


How Real?


How real is the recurring fear that wage increases other than what employers would grant will result to closure or retrenchment of factories and business establishments? 


In an analysis of statistical data of DOLE, Ibon Foundation, Inc. (posted by Bulatlat, Jan.28-Feb.3, 2007) came up with 16 categories, including “Others”, of the causes of “permanent closure/retrenchment” of business establishments in the NCR (Metro Manila) from 1995 to 2006 during which there were nine wage increases.  “Minimum wage rate increase” was one of the 16.


Of the total number (660,266) workers affected, only 3,044 were due to the increase in minimum wage.  The top six causes: “Financial” (214,854 affected), “Organization” (209,810), “Product Demand” (178,341), “Reorganization/Downsizing/Redundancy” (170.958), “Lack of Market/Slump in Demand” (164,123), “Financial Losses” (103,372).  


Among the 15 causes, excluding “Others”, “Minimum Wage Rate Increase” was the least

of the causes.  Next two lowest: “Competition from Imports” (3,823) and “Peso Depreciation” (9,583).


What do these figures from the DOLE file show? Business closure and retrenchment are normal in the operation of business and regularly occur due to many causes.  Minimum wage increase is the least of these but is being made to appear catastrophic.


How real is the fear that the HB 345 with its Senate counterpart if signed into law would scare foreign investors and weaken the Philippines’ “competitiveness in retaining investors in its 25 economic zones and industrial parks”?


Foreign investors come knowing they will make profit after weighing all factors. Low wage is just one of the factors.  As long as the other factors continue to guarantee good profit, foreign investors will stay and new ones will continue to come; otherwise, low wage is not a guarantee. 


It’s true, though, that keeping wages low will increase profits of business and industry – the lower the wages, the higher the profit. Laborers are victims of industrial and business sharks at the workplace and, outside, of loan sharks should they be in dire need of money,


The workers are told: To prevent the flight of investments, sacrifice your wage increase.


Why Us Always?


Another scare from DOLE and the employers is that the legislated P125-wage increase will raise prices, trigger inflation, etc.  Did the House and the Senate not determine the manageability of price and inflation increases?  That’s part of their deliberations.


The fact, however, is this: Prices continue increasing, the rate depending on inflation even without wage increase.  Unless there is zero inflation, prices go up.  And if their income does not go up, the workers have no means to counter the rising cost of living.


What the workers are told is this:  To keep the increase of prices low, you sacrifice the increase of your wages.  But how much do business establishments limit their prices and the increases of these?  If the Department of Trade and Industry will only make a study!


In their unlucky state, the workers must be moaning: Why sacrifice us always?

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])