President Benigno Aquino III observes an applicant using the Internet-based Employment Kiosk of the Department of Labor and Employment during the Job and Livelihood Fair at the covered court in St. Michael’s Park at Camp Servillano Aquino, Tarlac City last Tuesday.  (Photo courtesy of RTVM)

MANILA — Labor leaders last Tuesday went home disappointed after a dialogue with President Benigno Aquino III at Malacañang.

Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), the country’s largest labor group, said Mr. Aquino failed to offer anything substantial to improve the condition of workers.

“We were expecting something to hold onto, something to begin working on. But there was none. Trade unions and labor groups are at a loss,” TUCP spokesman Alan Tanjusay said.

Tanjusay said Mr. Aquino could have seized the moment to “uphold the dignity of the Filipino workers” by issuing directives that could create greater opportunities for them.

“It was an opportunity to ignite trade unionists’ hope and workers’ aspirations for decent work, decent pay, and decent lives,” he said.

The TUCP spokesman also accused Mr. Aquino of failing to keep his promise of non-wage benefits for workers, saying, “He gave us nothing. Not even the non-wage benefits.”

But TUCP said it is deferring its demand for a wage increase until June.

The group has a pending petition for an across-the-board wage increase of P85 in Metro Manila.

Officials earlier said no wage increase could be granted on Labor Day this year as the last increase took effect on June 3, 2012.

Under the Wage Rationalization Act, any wage order may not be disturbed within a year of its effectivity, unless backed by “supervening conditions, such as extraordinary increase in prices of petroleum products and basic goods (or) services.”

Former labor chief and TUCP member Ruben Torres said, for the moment, the group would focus on employment promotion.

TUCP would depart from its traditional Labor Day activities by supporting government efforts to solve unemployment and poverty.

TUCP has forged partnerships with leaders of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

Former Sen. Ernesto Herrera said the government should embark on an emergency employment program for the youth, which comprised the majority of the unemployed nationwide.

For the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Mr. Aquino’s promises will have little effect on workers.

“The funds that he promised to the country’s workers will flow through government agencies and are subject to reduction, corruption and redirection,” KMU said.

Another militant group called the Aquino Administration’s Labor Day promises “scraps meant for slaves.”

Renato Magtubo of the Partido ng Manggagawa said the government appears to be keeping the minimum wage rate at starvation level.

Magtubo also branded as a “farce” the nationwide job fairs to be conducted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

“The 400,000 jobs available at the job fairs cannot even provide for the 530,000 recent graduates,” Magtubo said.

As workers prepare to launch protest activities, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it is deploying more than 3,000 of its men to key areas in Metro Manila to maintain order, while the military is deploying 300 soldiers to assist in law enforcement.

More than 500 Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) personnel will also be on hand to help in crowd control.

Wage hike backed

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) backed calls for a wage increase.

“One way to have equality in economic growth is a proper salary and benefits for the workers,” said Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the CBCP National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace.

He said the record growth in the economy is useless if ordinary Filipinos cannot feel its effect.

Pabillo said the P456 daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is not even half of the estimated P1,000 daily cost of living.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle celebrated Mass at the Quiapo Church last Wednesday in honor of workers.

Last year, in his first Mass for workers, Tagle called on capitalists and the government to recognize the key role played by labor in sustaining the economy.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, for his part, urged the regional wage boards to review the petitions for wage hike and have them approved even before June, citing the rising prices of basic goods.

Estrada, chairman of the Senate committee on labor, employment and human resource development, said a salary adjustment would send a strong message to the world that the country’s economic gains are starting to trickle down to ordinary Filipinos.

For Team PNoy senatorial candidate and Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, “wage extenders” like rice subsidy, health insurance and shuttle service may do much to improve workers’ condition.

An industry-based wage-setting scheme may have to be put in place to allow industries doing well to give higher wages to their workers, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) senatorial candidate Nancy Binay said.

Hike in SSS contribution

In a pre-Labor Day speech last Tuesday, Mr. Aquino announced an increase in the mandatory contributions of Social Security System (SSS) members.

He said it is time to amend the SSS pension scheme as there had been 21 across-the-board pension increases since 1980, even if contribution rate had increased only twice.

“Therefore, it seems that we have kept taking excessive amounts of money and putting it on credit without raising any actual money. This will bankrupt us, and that is exactly SSS’s problem,” he said.

“Their estimated unfunded liability as of 2011 is P1.1 trillion, and if we do nothing now, this is expected to increase by eight percent every year. The solution? A little sacrifice,” he said.

“Right now, the SSS contribution rate is 10.4 percent. This is very low. The international standard is 14.1 percent, and the contribution rate for the government, 21 percent — they deduct double compared to the private sector. Now, if we just add .6 percent to the contribution rate and increase it to 11 percent, we can immediately reduce SSS’s unfunded liability by P141 billion,” the President said.

SSS president and chief executive officer Emilio de Quiros told the Philippine Star that “the increase in contribution is from 10.4 percent to 11 percent.”

He earlier said that the SSS plans to increase contributions once every two years by at least one percentage point, until the figure reaches the desired 15 percent rate, which is at par with global standards.

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