[Opinion] Labor in vain

There was hardly good news for the Filipino workers as they marked Labor Day last May 1. The study by Partido ng Manggagawa revealed that the cost of living for a family of six in Metro Manila alone as of April this year has already reached P1,217 per day.

The figures, of course, will differ in other regions and provinces. One can only imagine how a family of six can survive on a daily basis with P1,217 a day considering the exorbitant cost of basic necessities today. Yet the problem lies not only in the daily cost of living but in the cost of minimum wage in Metro Manila which is P456 a day.

A minimum wage earner head of the family will need P761 more just to meet the ideal cost of living in Metro Manila. Even if both parents work, their combined (daily minimum wage) income will not be enough to feed the entire family.

The survey did not provide for savings and social security which is in the government’s basket of goods and services comprising 10 percent of the cost of living. It also did not include items such as leisure and recreation, and the family budget for health excluded medical expenses.

If those items were to be included, for sure, a minimum wage earner will need more than P1,200 per day to meet the ideal daily cost of living.

Also disconnected from reality is the cost of living estimate by the National Wages and Productivity Council at P917 per day. This outdated amount has been continuously used by the NWPC since 2008 even if it no longer reflects the actual cost of living and because of inflation.

Even if the P85 wage petition filed earlier April is granted by the NCR wage board, the amount will not be enough to bridge the huge gap between the minimum wage and the cost of living. It remains doubtful, however, if the petition will earn positive action from the NWPC.

Historically, since the establishment of the NCR wage board in 1989, no basic wage increase was ever granted above P30, whether the economy was in boom or bust. In fact, these wage boards have not been effective in addressing the wage increase demands of the workers. The wage orders were always delayed and it benefits a few workers because they are not across-the-board and riddled with exemptions, deferments and creditability clauses.

The wage board can be abolished now and establish a National Wage Commission which has a mandate of fixing wages based on the single criterion of cost of living. The NWC can equalize minimum wage and the current cost of living by a host of mechanisms such as wage increases, tax exemptions, price discounts and social security subsidies for workers.

Moreover, since we are not inclined to impose the burden of household chores and child rearing to the female parent, then the government’s basket of goods must have provision for a househelp. Even the Kasambahay Law implicitly recognizes that a househelp is a necessity even for working class households.

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