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Philippine workers march against poor labor practices

Call for justice as some wages fall to less than half 2000 figure

Philippine workers march against poor labor practices

Filipinos march in the streets of Manila on Thursday to mark International Worker's Day. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Joe Torres and D'jay Lazaro, Manila

May 1, 2014

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Thousands of workers marched in the streets of Manila today to mark what they described as "the worst May 1 for workers in years”.

"Things have gone from bad to worse," said Congressman Terry Ridon of the Youth Party, adding that "worsening youth unemployment amid stagnating wages and benefits” was a growing concern.

Some three million Filipinos are unemployed, according to government statistics, half of which are aged 15 to 24.

"The ranks of the unemployed will swell once again, with the entry of more than 700,000 graduates in the labor market," said Ridon.

BPO, the country's association for outsourced workers, formerly one of the highest paid labor forces in the country, also protested over what they described as government neglect.

In a statement, BPO said that clients from the US are forcing employers to trim down basic salaries to as low as US$224 a month at the entry level. In early 2000, the average entry-level salary for a BPO worker was about $500 per month.

Congressman Fernando Hicap of the Working Class Party urged the labor sector to "unite and demand" a national legislated wage increase.

"It's high time for workers to fight and take back what is rightfully theirs," said Hicap, who authored a bill in Congress that seeks the granting of a $3 across-the-board legislated wage increase for workers in the private sector.

Data from the independent think-tank IBON Foundation shows that the gap between the minimum wage and the family living wage in the Philippines had increased from $12 in June 2010 to $13 as of August 2013.

Labor groups have expressed disappointment over President Benigno Aquino's failure to push for a wage increase. However, a spokesperson from the presidential palace said that consultations with the labor sector would continue to be held in the coming days to look into demands for a wage hike.

On Wednesday, Church leaders urged the government to abolish the practice of labor contractualization’ in the country.

"I hope workers receive a gift from the government by improving their working conditions and their pay," said Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the Public Affairs Committee of the bishops' conference.

If the government cannot grant a pay increase at this time, it should at least address the contractualization issue because it is “against the labor code”, he added.

Contractualization means that by issuing short-term contracts employers are able to avoid offering their workers tenure and benefits because the workers are not considered full-time.

Data shows that one third of those employed in business process outsourcing, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing and construction are contractual workers, according to the Department of Labor and Employment.

A survey by pollster Social Weather Stations showed that the unemployment rate in the Philippines rose to 27.5 percent, or an estimated 12.1 million individuals, by the end of 2013. The level of joblessness across the country was almost 6 points higher than the 21.7 percent in the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, the government's own Labor Force Survey puts the official unemployment rate at just 6.5 percent as of October 2013.

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