DoLE nominee Laguesma doubts feasibility of nat’l minimum wage

BIENVENIDO E. LAGUESMA, who has been nominated to head the next government’s Labor department, said on Tuesday that a national minimum wage may not be possible because many small companies are still struggling to recover from the pandemic.

Labor groups have been pushing for a national minimum wage amid complaints that the recent regional wage increases force workers to survive on what they called poverty wages.

“We have heard this before from the ranks of the laborers,” Mr. Laguesma said in Filipino during an interview with ABS-CBN TeleRadyo on Tuesday. “On the part of the business, especially the small companies, the small- and medium-sized enterprises, this is a heavy ask, especially since we are still suffering from the effects of the pandemic and other calamities that have hit the country.” 

He added that regional wage boards should focus on improving the productivity of businesses to generate more jobs.

“In recent years, the regional boards have been too focused on raising wages but have not addressed increasing productivity,” Mr. Laguesma noted. “It is important to induce or encourage countryside development.”

The World Bank’s World Development Indicators ranked the Philippine labor force’s productivity at 12th among 18 economies in East Asia and the Pacific.

Last week, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) announced that the Zamboanga Peninsula regional wage board had ordered a P35 minimum wage increase for nonagricultural workers and a P20 hike for agricultural workers.

If approved by the National Wages and Productivity Commission, the minimum wage for nonagricultural workers will rise to P351 from P316.

Eastern Visayas will also see a wage increase of P50 across all industries which will be given in two tranches of P25. This will bring daily pay to P375.

DoLE has said new minimum wages will be implemented in 14 regions this month after regional boards approved wage hikes of between P30 and P110.

The new minimum wage in Metro Manila increased by P33 on June 4 to P570 for nonagricultural workers and P533 for agricultural workers.

Central Luzon will have a P40 increase to P414-460.

The new minimum wage in Calabarzon is P390-P470 for nonagricultural workers; P350-P429 for agricultural workers; and P350 for retail and service establishments with not more than 10 workers.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said the recent pay hikes are insufficient to make up for the recent rise in fuel prices, and do nothing to bring workers out of poverty.

“Because of extraordinary inflation, the series of wage increase orders issued by the wage boards failed to restore the purchasing power of wages and (they) didn’t uplift workers’ purchasing power above the poverty threshold,” TUCP President Raymond C. Mendoza said. — John Victor D. Ordoñez