DOLE unsure of timeline for resolving wage hike petitions

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 24) — The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) can’t say when the petitions for raising the minimum wage in four regions will be resolved as lawmakers push for a living wage during the agency’s budget briefing.

At the House appropriations committee’s hearing on DOLE’s proposed ₱40.151-billion budget for 2024 on Thursday, Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma said regional wage boards are following the proper process in studying wage hike petitions.

Petitions for increasing the minimum wage have been filed in Regions 3, 4-A, 6, and 7. On June 29, the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board in the National Capital Region approved the ₱40 increase in the daily minimum wage of workers in the private sector. This is seen to benefit 1.1 million minimum wage earners in Metro Manila.

READ: NCR just saw a wage hike, what about the other regions?

Laguesma was non-committal when asked by Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas if the pending wage hike petitions could be resolved this month. He said the regional wage boards have to balance the interests of both workers and employers.

“Nais rin po naming tiyakin ang istabilidad ng operasyon ng mga kumpanya,” he said. “Bahagi po ‘yun ng pagbabalanse ng Department of Labor and Employment. Subalit meron po kaming mga sinusundan na timelines at proseso at hindi po naman kami nagde-delay.”

[Translation: We would like to ensure the stability of the operations of companies. That’s part of the balancing that the DOLE does. We are following the timelines and processes, and we are not delaying these.]

“Hindi nasagot ang tanong ko. Kaya ba o hindi kaya?” Brosas pressed.

[Translation: My question was not answered. Is it doable or not?]

“Kung sa darating na buwan ay kakayanin sa proseso po tinitingnan eh. ‘Yun lang siguro ang gusto kong bigyang diin,” Laguesma replied.

[Translation: The process needs to be checked if it is doable by next month. That’s what I want to stress.]

National Wages and Productivity Commission Executive Director Maria Criselda Sy said the timeline for resolving wage hike petitions varies across regions because their schedules for holding public consultations and hearings are different.

She also said the minimum wage cannot be automatically adjusted to catch up with inflation, which remains higher than the government’s target range of 2% to 4%.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that when inflation is up, you need to increase the minimum wage because you have to consider the existing productivity performance of the country together with the economic condition,” she explained.

Inflation eased in recent months from a 14-year high of 8.7% in January, she added.

Think tank IBON Foundation pegs the daily living wage for a family of five in NCR at ₱1,164, nearly 48% higher than the ₱610 minimum wage in the region.

Sy said the minimum wage also doesn’t equate to a living wage as the former is only intended to protect vulnerable workers. She noted that other interventions are needed to help skilled workers, who could negotiate higher pay with their employers.

Voluntary arrangements

Laguesma also advised workers to negotiate with their employers through labor unions on a “voluntary arrangement” in increasing their wages.

“Sa ganon, makikita talaga ang aktwal na kalagayan ng isang kompanya at makikita kung ano ang dapat na maipagkaloob na benepisyo sa kanila,” the Labor secretary told the House panel.

[Translation: That way, they can see the actual condition of the company and determine what benefits they should receive.]

Brosas pointed out that currently, there is only a small percentage of workers joining unions, and they are being red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“Ang daming balakid sa pag-uunyon. Paano sila makakapagsabi na ito ‘yong kinakailangang sahod sa kasulukuyan kung ‘yong mismong mekanismo ng gobyerno ay ginagamit para sila ay hindi makapagsalita at makapagsabi kung ano ‘yong tunay nilang kalagayan at makakatulong sa kanila?” she added.

[Translation: There are many obstacles in unionism. How can they say the salary that they need if the government’s mechanisms are being used to silence them?]

During the interpellation, Kabataan party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel flagged the continuous partnership of the DOLE and the NTF-ELCAC, especially on supposed information drive on labor laws.

Laguesma said they already coordinated with the NTF-ELCAC that the DOLE is the agency that will address labor-related issues.

He also reiterated that the Marcos administration has formed the Inter-Agency Committee for the Protection of the Freedom of Association and Right to Organize of Workers under Executive Order No. 23.

CNN Philippines digital producer Jelo Ritzhie Mantaring contributed to this report.