This week’s announcement of a paltry P33 increase in the minimum wage in Metro Manila confirmed what we gathered from President Duterte’s Labor Day message earlier this month—that Filipino workers will continue to get the short end of the stick.
In his May 1 address, the President sang paeans to “our mighty Filipino workers,” citing their “great passion, integrity and professionalism” as “a source of immense pride”–without once mentioning the need to ensure that they get a decent, living wage.
In March, the Department of Labor and Employment urged regional wage boards to expedite petitions for wage hikes to help workers cope with the rising cost of basic goods that have been aggravated by the high prices of fuel products.
This week, we saw the stunted fruit borne by the tripartite wage boards—a P33 increase in the minimum wage in Metro Manila.
With the P33 hike, the minimum daily wage will increase to P570 in Metro Manila for the non-agricultural workers and P533 for agricultural workers.
This is a far cry from the P1,000 a day that the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), the country’s largest labor group, sought from the wage board.
Before the latest increase, a minimum wage earner’s daily pay of P537 meant a net take-home pay of P493, which, adjusted for inflation, was only P454.
Thus, a monthly take-home pay of P13,962 for minimum wage earners in the NCR only had a purchasing power of P12,844, the TUCP said, well below the poverty threshold for a family of five in Metro Manila, which is P16,625 monthly.
If rent is factored in, it is difficult to see how P16,625 a month, much less P12,844, will adequately feed a family of five.
But don’t we, as a society, want our workers and their families to do better than borderline survival?
In an analysis of minimum wages around the world, Picoldi.com found that workers in the Philippines were among the poorest paid, ranking 57th in a field of 64 countries. In Southeast Asia, we are ranked the lowest. Of course, there are wide variances in the standard of living in these countries, but there is no denying that Filipino workers fare poorly compared to their counterparts in most parts of the world.
The administration’s economic managers applaud the paltry increase, saying proudly that it will not raise the rate of inflation. But should their first thought not be if the wage hike can raise our workers out of the poverty threshold. The regional wage boards will never give workers what they need, when two parties in the tripartite boards—the state and employers—agree that wages must be kept low so that we remain “competitive.”
In successive administrations, we have sought to deal with poverty with doles and subsidies—a policy that ultimately encourages mendicancy and sloth and works against productivity. We need to break this cycle and pay our workers a decent, living wage. They are, after all, a key factor of production, and one that we have taken for granted for far too long.