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PNoy rebuffs workers

Palace ritual of rejections on Labor Day Workers failed to obtain non-wage concessions from President Benigno Aquino III during their pre-Labor Day dialogue at the Palace Tuesday, where the Chief Executive urged workers to see May 1 as a day for celebration, not as a day for pickets and rallies. At the meeting, the President rejected a proposal to raise the tax exemption for bonuses and other benefits, and refused to certify as urgent a security of tenure bill that seeks to end the widespread abuse of contractual labor, said Jose Sonny Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers. “There was no substantial action from the President. There was no non-wage package either,” Matula said. Daniel Edralin of the Alliance of Progressive Labor raised the need to pass the security of tenure bill as well as to increase the tax exemptions during the dialog. “Workers are being declared as redundant. Some are being asked to retire early then re-hired as contractuals. So it is not surprising that despite the conditional cash transfer and other poverty alleviating measures, poverty data remained the same and unchanged,” Edralin said. He also urged the government to raise the bracket for tax-exempt bonuses as well as exempt the signing bonus and productivity increases contained in collective bargaining agreements from taxation. But Mr. Aquino said the proposed bill to end the hiring of contractual labor would actually result in job losses. “While some 1.8 million workers would benefit from this bill, at least 10 million Filipinos will lose their jobs if this is passed,” Mr. Aquino said. The President said he is open to amending the bill and ordered the Tripartite Industrial Peace Council to study the “real situation” and recommend possible solutions. Mr. Aquino also said increasing the tax exemptions would also result in at least P2.74 billion in foregone revenues. But Edralin questioned the President’s data on the 10 million workers who will lose their jobs. “We are disappointed. Where did that 10 million figure come from? I have asked the Presidential Management Staff and they said it came from the National Economic and Development Authority. But when I asked NEDA, they said they were not sure if the figure came from them,” Edralin said. “If the President does not want to certify this measure as urgent, the least that he can do is to marshall his allies in Congress to support this bill,” the labor leader added. The President also asked workers in the private sector to sacrifice a bit amid the planned increase in Social Security System contributions from 10.4 percent to 11 percent. “It is time to amend the SSS pension scheme. Since 1980, we have increased pensions across the board for 21 times. But contribution rates only increased twice,” the President said. A worker earning P10,000 would have to cough up P60 more monthly, to be shared equally with his employee, once the contribution rate hike is carried out. “We have been withdrawing from SSS funds without increasing contributions. SSS might become bankrupt. Right now, the unfunded liability of SSS since 2011 has already reached P1.1 trillion. And if we do not do anything, this will increase by 8 percent every year,” Mr. Aquino said, adding that the solution was “a little sacrifice” on the part of private sector workers. The planned contribution rate increase will decrease the unfunded liabilities of the SSS by P141 billion, Mr. Aquino said. The President also did not answer the issues raised by labor groups of the high cost of power in the country. Victorina Balais of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines appealed to Mr. Aquino during the dialogue to create two presidential commissions that would study agro-industrial and trade policy as well as how to bring down power rates. “Skyrocketing power rates continue to erode the already reduced purchasing power of workers,” Balais said. She also urged Aquino to appoint a labor representative to the Energy Regulatory Commission and remove the expanded value added tax from system losses. “The belts of Filipino workers have already been tightened too much,” Balais said. In his speech, the President addressed concerns raised by labor groups on the growing incidence of extrajudicial killings of union members. Edralin said during the Arroyo administration, at least 30 cases of extrajudicial killings were recorded. Under the Aquino administration, Edralin said, six unionists have already been killed. “We have tasked the Department of Justice to double their efforts to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of labor-related cases,” Mr. Aquino said. The President maintained that there is still good news for workers. He said that the government was spending P180 million to hire more labor law compliance officers to stop companies from abusing contractual workers by renewing contracts every five months. “We expect that by October, they will already be able to help apprehend those who violate our labor laws,” Mr. Aquino said. The President ended the dialogue by saying that Labor Day must not be seen as a day for pickets and rallies but a day for celebration. “It should be a happy day where both workers and employees celebrate a productive year,” he said. “From now on, I hope we treat Labor Day as a Good Job Day. Let us end negativism. We have done a lot of positive things, and we have accomplished these not through complaining or blame-throwing but through cooperation. It is time we greet each other ‘good job,’” the President said. Labor leaders described the breakfast meeting with the President as fruitless. “The dialogue between Aquino and the country’s labor sector shows once again that engaging this government in dialogue is futile. It shows that his government treats these dialogues only as propaganda stunts,” said Elmer Labog, chairperson the Kilusang Mayo Uno. “Aquino focused on his government’s efforts to generate jobs in order to blackmail workers into accepting poverty wages, contractual employment and repression. The truth is that his policies have failed to generate jobs and have only caused greater hunger and poverty among workers,” he said. “It is ironic that President Aquino commends the country’s workers for a ‘good job’ in relation to the so-called growth of the economy but refuses to make this growth felt by workers in a concrete and immediate way.” He said Aquino refused to give workers a significant wage hike, which would provide much-needed relief. “Aquino’s promises will not be immediately felt by the country’s workers. The funds that he promised to the country’s workers will flow through government agencies and are subject to reduction, corruption and redirection,” he said. The militant Partido ng Manggagawa belittled the non-wage benefits to be announced by the Palace on Labor Day. “Workers are not children that can be pacified with candy. The Constitution mandated a living wage for workers but the state keeps minimum wages at starvation levels,” PM chairman Renato Magtubo said.. “Job fairs are simply job facilitation yet the real issue is employment generation. So-called economic growth has not translated to job creation. Unemployment remains at 7 percent and even college graduates constitute almost one fifth of the unemployed. The 400,000 jobs available at the job fairs cannot even provide for the 530,000 recent graduates,” Magtubo said. he Trade Union Congress of the Philippines expressed dismay over the Labor Department’s announcement that there will be no wage increase this Labor Day. TUCP spokesperson Alan Tanjusay said the government should listen to the voice of the workers and their need for a substantial wage increase. The Federation of Free Workers said the workers were no longer expecting the government to grant a salary increase as a gift to workers this Labor Day. “We just want substantial wage increase, whether it be legislated or through the wage board,” Julius Cainglet of FFW said. Members of the Partido ng Manggagawa said they would stage an overnight vigil at the Mendiola Bridge near the Palace as part of their continuing campaign for a wage increase and other labor reforms. But the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the largest business organization in the country, called the wage hike demand of workers untimely, saying what is important now is for the government to attract more investors to create jobs to lower the unemployment rate. “First, any wage increase at this moment is untimely because it takes one year after the latest wage hike before we can give another one,” PCCI president Miguel Varela said. “Second, what we should focus on must be how to create more jobs.” With Vito Barcelo and Julito Rada
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