LABOR groups slammed President Benigno Aquino III Thursdayfor the lack of a pro-labor legacy, saying he has alienated the people he proudly called his bosses four years ago.
“For the last four Labor Day commemorations, workers have received nothing or zero from PNoy,” said Renato Magtubo, chairman of the Partido ng Manggagawa, referring to the President by his nickname. “Just like this Labor Day, workers will get no wage increase, not even non-wage benefits from government.”
Some 30,000 workers from different groups marked Labor Day with protests at the Liwasang Bonifacio, Welcome Rotunda and Mendiola Bridge.
The labor coalition Nagkaisa that led the Labor Day march to Mediola described the last four years under Aquino as “extremely disappointing” as the President has not addressed any of the workers’ most pressing concerns.
Nagkaisa said growth will remain highly unequal when millions of workers remain in contractual jobs with no security of tenure.
More than 70 percent of employed persons in the country, are contractual or “non-regular,” one study showed. Labor groups said they are the country’s most overworked and most poorly paid workers.
Nagkaisa also tore into the government for having no realistic plan to lower the price of electricity, which continues to rise while wages remain the same.
The group said at this rate, workers could see only a dead end in the Aquino administration’s “straight path” policy.
The Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions, meanwhile, called for the abolition of the National Labor Relations Center for its failure to resolve labor disputes.
At a news conference, Dave Diwa of PAFLU, along with Timoteo Aranjuez of the Congress of Labor Organizations, Rodolfo Javellana Jr. of the Union of Filipino Consumers and Commuters and other labor leaders, signed a manifesto to call for the creation of a separate government agency that would look into the various labor complaints in the private sector and abuses of the overseas workers by their employers.
The groups also blamed the Aquino administration for low wages, the proliferation of contractual work, the lack of tax breaks for workers and the high incidence of unemployment.
Despite the angry rhetoric, most of the protest actions Thursday were peaceful, the police said.
Traffic in Manila, however, was tied up by the thousands of marchers protesting the lack of wage and non-wage benefits, as well as the recent signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.
The Palace on Thursday said it was wary of a fourth round of wage increases for state workers proposed by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. The fourth round under the Salary Standardization Law would raise the base pay of the lowest government rank fro P9,000 a month to P16,000.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the proposal must be studied carefully to see if is aligned with the administration’s budget priorities.
The measure would also raise the monthly salaries of Cabinet officials to P600,000 to P800,000 to curb corruption in government, and increase the President’s salary from P120,000 to P1 million.
But Coloma said it was more important to raise the pay of public school teachers, soldiers, policemen and career government employees.
“That proposal is similar to the existing policy in Singapore where the salaries of government officials are at par with corporate executives. We have to study the full implication of the proposal – including the total amount that would be spent and how this could be aligned with the budget priorities of the government such as public infrastructure and poverty reduction,” Coloma added.
Trillanes’ bill would also raise the monthly salaries of senators and members of the House of Representatives from the current P90,000 to over P350,000.
“Due to the competitive compensation package, our public servants will no longer consider resorting to unscrupulous activities in order to augment their meager income, and, instead, focus their efforts and energy to public service, curbing corruption and cutting red tape,” Trillanes said.
Two opposition lawmakers attacked Aquino for his refusal to raise wages for state workers.
Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz also said that the Palace’s position proved that the administration’s claim of economic growth was just a press release, and that the benefits have ot trickled down to the poor.
“We had half expected this given the undue fascination of this administration with statistics and credit ratings. Workers’ welfare and rights are mere statistics [to the administration], not human beings whose needs and hopes have to be met,” de la Cruz said.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan dismissed workers salaries as “slave-level wages given the increases in the price of basic commodities, utility rates and fuel.
Ilagan said Aquino has been a failure in terms of economic management and the promotion of workers’ welfare.
In Labor Day messages, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senate President Franklin Drilon vowed to speed up legislation aimed at improving the lot of workers.
Drilon said this would include a measure that would increase the tax exemption of workers’ 13th month pay.
Another Senate measure seeks to raise wages for soldiers and policemen.
Drilon said the Senate is also open to helping government employees cope with rising prices, but said this must be done without creating a budget deficit. – With Rio N. Araja, Francisco Tuyay and Ma. Jerrylyn B. Damaso
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