Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Wage increase?

I was out of town Saturday until Monday running a leadership program for 140 college students at this retreat house in Tagaytay whose main attraction (it seems) was that they did not have a single television set in any of its dorms and cottages. Because I am a person who always has the TV set in my room turned on (even when I am not watching it), it was initially uncomfortable being disconnected from the world, but strangely liberating after a while.

I texted my best friend to give me an update on what was happening in Manila and his terse reply was "Wala, korni nga eh." Neverthelesss, I got back to Manila May 1 afternoon dreading all sorts of worst case scenarios, which thankfully, did not come to pass. I guess this whole psy-war thing which the government, the opposition and militants have mastered is truly overrated.

May 1 being labor day, I expected that there would be a clamor for wage increases. This has been a tired constant refrain in the last decade. What I did not expect were populist statements from religious figures about the minimum wage issue. The President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Archbishop Angel Lagdameo lamented that workers in the Philippines are often deprived of their just share of the fruits of their work. Sadly, the statement was coached in very general terms and was full of theological gobbledygook. I wasn't really clear about what exactly the good bishop was advocating. Bishop Oscar Cruz was more direct accusing the government of being "deaf, dumb and blind" to the cause of workers.

I can understand where the bishops are coming from. There is no denying that the current minimum wage, for example, is inadequate. However, wage increases is a very complicated issue and the reality is that there are many small and medium enterprises that can not even afford to pay the current minimum wage. If the church truly cares about the welfare of their flock, I suggest that they begin within their ranks. I know for a fact that many churchworkers do not even receive the minimum wage and many are not paid at all. I have a cousin who works as secretary of a parish, and her salary is a paltry P3,000 (this is way, way below the minimum wage). If the church truly cares about workers in this country, I suggest that they walk the talk. First, they must pay their workers well. They can donate the riches of the church to the poor and truly live with the people instead of living in palaces. They can also stop charging for church services, or at least reduce the rates (do you know how much it costs to have someone baptized? or for a mass to be said for a dead loved one?) . And then then can start pointing their fingers somewhere else.

Is it time to legislate wage increases? I do not think so. Wage increases is a very complicated issue. And if only for this reason, it should be left out of the hands and interference of politicians - all types of politicians.


benign0 said...

I think wage rates merely reflect the productivity of a nation's work force.

In the Philippines, we are in a real rut -- being dependent on low added-value industries for a big chunk of our economic output (and therefore competing with low-wage countries like China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh), whilst demanding the wages commanded by workers that produce medium-added-value output (such as those produced by the workforces of Malaysia and Thailand).

As you said, wages are a complicated issue. If manufacturing productivity were only about low wages, then how come so much manufacturing is still being done within the borders of hi-wage countries like Japan and Germany?

And if we hold on to this lofty ideal of "just" wages, consider that in a hi-population, hi-unemployment-rate society like ours; for every worker that demands higher wages from his/her employer, there will always be a vast pool of cheaper options that employers can tap -- 80 million options to be a bit more specific.

alden said...

Hay naku ,Bong, IHMO, the church has been so out of touch from reliality for sooooooooo long!!!Allow me to post this piece from our yahoo group:
From: plutarco benedictos
Date: Fri Mar 24, 2006 10:15 am
Subject: Barking Up the Wrong Tree

The BBC has a knack for reporting the most unpleasant
news about the Philippines. Several years ago, it made
quite a stir when it reported on the grave dwellers at
the North Cemetery of Manila. Last year, it focused on
the shocking children in prison. This year, the
spotlight is on back street abortion. However,
shooting the messenger--blaming the BBC--is not the

"The Reporters" program of the BBC reported on March
19, 2006 that 500,000 abortions--all illegal--are
performed in the Philippines every year. Hundreds die
due to complications and 80,000 become life-
threateningly ill due to infection.

The Catholic Church is against abortion and
contraception. Manila Archbishop and Cardinal-elect,
Gaudencio Rosales, regard them as immoral. Is he aware
that outside the walls of the Quiapo Church in Manila,
are fortune-tellers and peddlers of amulets
("anting-anting") and abortion drugs and herbs to
induce abortion ("pamparegla")? Is it not equally
immoral to have children and not be able to feed, let
alone educate them decently? These children are being
condemned to a lifetime of poverty and criminality. Is
it the fault of the government? Is it not the
responsibility of parents to raise their children?

God will provide we are being assured. But God help
those who help themselves. Charity may be a virtue but
it also fosters mendicancy and indolence and robs the
poor of self-respect and human dignity. We are all
diminished by reliance on dole outs.

For as long as the population of the Philippines
continues to grow at an exponential rate, with no
effective birth control program due to the vociferous
objection of the Catholic Church, we can kiss any hope
of Philippine prosperity goodbye.

The Opposition is barking up the wrong tree. The
Catholic Church, the last bastion of obscurantism, and
not President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the problem.