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Workers dun BIR for P20-billion refund

The country’s biggest labor federation on Monday demanded the return of P20 billion that they say was illegally collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue from minimum wage earners for seven months in 2008.

The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines said the cash would help workers’ families cope with the rapidly rising prices of goods and services.

ALU-TUCP president Michael Mendoza cited a Jan. 24, 2017 Supreme Court ruling that nullified two provisions of a BIR revenue regulation that disqualified minimum wage earners from tax exemptions on income above P30,000.

This developed as a party-list lawmaker backed the proposed 25-percent increase in the statutory minimum wage for the 190,000 Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong.

ACTS-OFW Rep. Aniceto Bertiz III said: “If Hong Kong wants to stay competitive and keep on attracting dependable and educated Filipino household staff, it has to bump up at a faster rate their minimum pay.”

Hong Kong families are under pressure to hold on to their Filipino domestic workers amid the lure of greener pastures in mainland China, Bertiz said.

“There is pent-up demand for Filipino household staff in mainland China, primarily from the growing number of wealthy Chinese families with a second child and from the expatriates there,” he said.

The TUCP had challenged the BIR regulation before the Supreme Court, which ruled in its favor when it found that minimum wage earners should not be taxed under Republic Act 9502.

While the law became effective June 17, 2008, the BIR issued its revenue regulation and collected income tax from workers for seven months before suspending the collections.

“Minimum wage earners need this additional cash, which they rightfully own,” Mendoza said. “We urge the BIR… to return the money, including legal interest, now. Until now, the BIR and the DoF [Department of Finance] have not complied with the high court order for them to make a cash refund.”

The ALU-TUCP estimated that the refund, including the interest earned from 2008 to 2017, would reach P20 billion.

“We cannot understand why the BIR and the DoF is quick to squeeze money from the workers but it takes forever for them to return what they illegally collected. Mahiya naman kayo! [Shame on you!],” said Alan Tanjusay, ALU-TUCP spokesman, speaking in a mix of English and Filipino. “The workers worked hard for that money. Give it back!”

According to Bertiz, affluent families in China want their children to learn English at an early age to prepare them for future higher education in America, Britain, Australia and elsewhere.

“This is why they are willing to offer higher pay for English-speaking Filipino staff to help around the house,” the lawmaker said.

Hong Kong’s Labor department periodically reviews the minimum wage and other benefits for foreign domestic workers and is expected to announce improvements in September.

Advocates for domestic workers’ rights in Hong Kong are pushing for an HK$5,500 (about P36,800) monthly minimum wage, which is 25 percent higher than the current floor pay.

At present, foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong are entitled to a “minimum allowable wage” of HK$4,410 (about P29,500) per month, plus a food allowance of at least HK$1,053 (P7,050) per month if they are not provided free meals by the employer.

Filipinos account for 53 percent of the 360,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, Bertiz said.

Hong Kong has acknowledged it could lose up to 50 percent of its Filipino domestic workers due to superior pay in the mainland ranging from the Chinese yuan equivalent of HK$8,600 (P57,600) to HK$15,500 (P103,900).

Even without the mainland demand factor, Hong Kong would still need an additional 240,000 foreign domestic workers in the years ahead, partly to help look after its growing number of seniors, according to the autonomous Chinese territory’s Labor and Welfare Bureau.

The number of Hong Kong residents aged 65 or older is projected to double from 1.16 million in 2016 to 2.37 million by 2036.

Filipino workers in Hong Kong, including professionals, sent home US$735.2 million (P39.59 billion) in 2017, based on data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.  They sent home another US$188.7 million (P9.92 billion) from January to March this year.

The amounts do not include money transferred via non-bank channels, such as through other Filipino workers who come home for vacations.

Topics: Bureau of Internal Revenue , Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines , Michael Mendoza , Rep. Aniceto Bertiz III
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