Workers protest at congressional hearing on wage hike proposal

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Quezon City police tried to disperse a workers’ protest, led by Kilusang Mayo Uno, in front of Congress yesterday, February 28. They beat and pushed the protesting workers. They tried to accost a rallyist. KMU cited PLt.Col. Jerry Castillo, QCPD chief, for instigating the violence.

Workers timed the action on the first day of congressional hearings on the across-the-board wage increase proposal. At least six proposals on the national minimum wage have been filed in Congress, including one raising it by ₱150 and another setting it to ₱750. A new proposal for an extra ₱350 per day is being floated. The hearing is in response to the ₱100 across-the-board wage increase bill passed in the Senate on February 19.

During the congressional hearing, labor groups confronted representatives of capitalists, including officials of the Confederation of Wearables Exporters of the Philippines (Conwep), a group of capitalists manufacturing apparel for export. (Its largest operations employing the biggest number of workers are found in export processing zones and wholly owned by foreign capitalists.)

In February 2023, the Foreign Buyers Association of the Philippines predicted that the industry’s total export value will increase by 50% in 2023, compared to 2022. This is mainly due to new orders such as the $6.48 million contract by Nichiun Co. Ltd of Japan’s Konoike Group. For 2024, the industry will grow slightly but steadily by 2%, according to the group.

As expected, Conwep opposed any increase in wages saying it would result in mass layoffs. It warned that up to 21,000 jobs will be lost if wages are raised amid what it has heralded as “optimistic prospects” for the industry.

On the other hand, the Ibon Foundation refuted the excuse of large companies, such as those under Conwep, that there will be mass layoffs if wages are raised. According to the state’s own data in 2021, wages share only 10.6% of the total expenses of capitalists in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the net income of companies grew by 28% to ₱2.5 trillion between 2020 and 2021. Even more outrageous was the 104% increase in the net income of the 1,000 largest companies in the Philippines during the same period. Despite this, workers’ wages did not rise beyond P40 in 2023, which is is even lower than in previous years. In 2020, they used the pandemic to cut workers’ wages and even asked for a moratorium to postpone scheduled factory-level wage increases.

In addition to wage increases, the hearing also discussed the need for the state to provide subsidies to micro and small businesses, which are not covered by the mandate of the regional wage boards or any laws to be passed on wage increases. It was clarified in the hearing that laws and programs exist to help such companies, and wage increase cover only large companies that employ more than half of all wage workers.

AB: Workers protest at congressional hearing on wage hike proposal