2022 Philippine Elections

[New School] Our next leader must prioritize wage increase for inclusive economic recovery

Ferdinand Salazar
[New School] Our next leader must prioritize wage increase for inclusive economic recovery
'To think that businesses are always the first to receive huge bailouts from the government; their outcry against raising wages is simply absurd and self-serving'

It should be clear by now that the coming elections will have far-reaching impacts for the next six years for the country. It is true, more so, for the ordinary working-class Filipino. 

Talks of wage increase are becoming more persistent in recent discourses, as well as concomitant issues surrounding it. There seems to be a consensus among Filipino citizens that wages must be fair, able to sustain the needs of workers and their families. But how come wages in the country are way below living standards?

In 2018, former chief of NEDA Ernesto Pernia issued a statement about how a family of five needs at least P42,000 per month to make ends meet. This was more of a clarification after one of his undersecretaries remarked that a same-sized Filipino family supposedly needs only P10,000 a month to survive, with a meager allocation of P127 per day for food. The latter drew the ire of many labor groups, netizens, and ordinary Filipinos in general as such a statement sounded out of touch with the daily struggles of the Filipino family. 

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That was in 2018, way before the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is far worse now amidst a health crisis where millions lost livelihood, and where government aid is at best inconsistent and at worst, nowhere to be found.

It seems many of us are in agreement on raising wages, especially for those living below the poverty line. But the moment there is a demand for wage increase, there is some opposition especially from the business community, citing old, worn-out counterarguments. They claim, increasing wages will result in higher prices of commodities, inflation, and more unemployment. 

The irony here is that these problems cited by businesses, especially big businesses, have been occurring while wages have remained stagnant for the longest time. Comparing price increase and inflation with levels of wages in this country, one can observe that the prices of goods have been steadily increasing over time. On the other hand, wages have barely increased and at times, have even gone down. Thus, the argument that “increasing wages will plunge the economy” is downright simplistic and tunnel visioned, and is not necessarily the case automatically. 

The typical Filipino worker lives in less-than-livable conditions. This is further fueled by the reality that minimum wages differ by region, with the highest already being at P537 per day in NCR. In many provinces across the country, real daily wage is much lower, sometimes even going as low as P252.46 in Region I for Non-plantation Agriculture as per NWPC’s February 2022 data. 

These distinctions cemented by government institutions have only perpetuated the ever-sinking conditions of Filipino workers. There really is no sufficient pragmatic (let alone, scientific) basis as to why minimum wages are significantly different by region, or by economic sector. 

Even the P537 minimum wage in NCR barely suffices to meet the needs of Filipino families. And this only begs the question: how worse could the situation be in provinces where wages are generally lower, with some commodities being more expensive than they are in Metro Manila?

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The call for wage increase resounds louder than ever. This is an issue that cannot simply be ignored by those running for national positions in the coming elections. Sadly, most of the national candidates are either silent or dilly-dallying with their stances on the pressing concerns of the Filipino worker. We must demand them to take more proactive stances, and include the struggles of the working class in their platforms. 

At least two things must be done. First, the abolition of regional wage boards. Again, there is no solid basis whatsoever for the differences in minimum wage across regions and industries. Under the present neoliberal globalized system, impacts of economic factors are felt everywhere in the entire country and among all sectors, and thus, the differences in wages only serve to leave behind those receiving lower wages and worse, make bottom feeders fight for whatever dirt-cheap jobs available.   

Second, a national minimum wage must be implemented. Such a policy will oblige all businesses owners and employers to provide compensation commensurate to the needs of families vis-à-vis economic fluctuations. It will set the baseline higher such that Filipino workers all throughout the country are given more breathing room for budgeting needs, without any region or sector lagging behind due to arbitrary policy distinctions.

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As of this article’s writing, there are calls for implementing a national minimum wage of P750. This is both a sound policy and a necessary move to uplift the conditions of millions of workers receiving poverty wages, and to jumpstart the recovery of the economy by providing utmost support to those upon whom the economy ultimately rests: the workers themselves.  

In the end, the issue of wage increase is a matter of priorities, of whose interest really is prioritized by our leaders. In many cases, government policy is more attuned to the capacity of business owners to pay and grow profit and less on the capacity of workers to live and address their needs. To think that businesses are always the first to receive huge bailouts from the government; their outcry against raising wages is simply absurd and self-serving. 

And this is why wages in the country remain low: economic policies are all about business and less about people. It is time to change that. It is time for us to choose the next leader who will truly address the plight of the working-class majority of Filipinos. – Rappler.com

Ferdinand Salazar, 24, is a graduating student anticipating the hurdles of soon entering the workforce.

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