An increase in the minimum wage in the country may be implemented soon to ensure that the labor sector will be protected from the rapid expansion of the economy, President Ferdinand R. Marcos said.
During a courtesy call at Malacañan Palace of International Labor Organization (ILO) Director General Gilbert F. Houngbo on Tuesday, President Marcos said his administration, through the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), has sat down with the workers and labor unions and organizations to strike a balance and alleviate the “inflationary pressures” on workers.
“But I think our negotiations with workers, with the unions, with the different negotiations, we will be able to come to a good working number, a good compromise,” he said.
The current minimum wage in the Philippines ranges between Php372 and Php470, depending on the region where the business is located.
Marcos said rapid industrialization and expansion of the economy could hurt the labor sector.
“When there is rapid industrialization and rapid expansion of the economy, there is a tendency to leave the labor sector behind and just exploit the labor sector,” the chief executive said, saying that more than 96 percent of the businesses in the Philippines are small or “nano-enterprises.”
“Our workers, of course, are asking for a (wage) increase, workers in those small businesses. We might drive the businesses out because they (employers) cannot pay because they are too small,” the President said.
For his part, Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma, who was also present during the meeting with the ILO chief, said they might be able to resolve the issue within the week.
Laguesma echoed the President’s remarks, saying that the majority of the businesses in the Philippines are in the category of micro and small.
Micro businesses are those with only one to nine workers, while small are with 10 to 99 workers, Laguesma pointed out.
Laguesma added they will be presenting to the President and the Cabinet the Philippine Development Plan 2020-2023, which have been both endorsed by the labor sector and DOLE, before holding a national tripartite conference.
The DOLE chief also said they will be meeting with the workers and employers by next month regarding Executive Order (EO) No. 23, which directs the administration to form an inter-agency committee to strengthen the coordination and expedite the investigation, prosecution and resolution of cases of extrajudicial killings and harassment of workers and union leaders and members.
“We are doing this mindful of what you also stated and recognize that within a particular country, there are certain domestic laws that have to be in sync with our efforts to embrace and respect bipartisanship,” Laguesma said.
For those who lost their jobs during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the President assured there are programs under the DOLE they could avail of.
“I think the important part of this whole discussion is that we continue to make sure that we are protecting our workers and their families, especially after the pandemic…There has already been a social program in place for the lowest income stratum of our economy. But now, there is a special program under the Department of Labor and Employment,” Marcos said.
“There is a special program for those workers who… find themselves out of work right now, they cannot travel, they cannot go anywhere. So we had to find a way to support them,” he said, adding the number of unemployed has lessened because of employment locally and overseas.
The government repatriated almost 800,000 overseas Filipino workers from the Middle East and Europe where businesses had shut down during the pandemic, the President cited.
“I think the government did everything that it could in that time..but then it became very clear that after a while that we cannot just send them back out anymore. We have to train them again because sometimes they can go back to their old jobs,” he said.
Marcos also told Houngbo that his administration is working overtime to address the problem of illegal recruitment and human trafficking as these two issues have been besetting the country for a long time now.
“That’s a big problem for us here in the Philippines. Illegal recruitment and really, you take it a little further, it becomes human trafficking. And we seem to have become a target for many of these unscrupulous activities,” the President said.
“But Secretary (Susan) Ople and I, we were working to keep us from Tier 3 to Tier 2. Now we are in Tier 1, so we want to just maintain that classification,” he added.
Tier 1 means a country is fully compliant with the minimum standards for elimination of severe forms of trafficking in persons while Tier 2 classifies a country that is not fully compliant, but making “significant efforts” to be compliant with the minimum standards.
Tier 3 means that a country is not fully compliant and not making “significant efforts” to be compliant with the minimum standards.
The President also told the ILO chief that the problem of human trafficking is only plaguing the Philippines but also its ASEAN neighbors such as Indonesia and Vietnam.
Houngbo, on the other hand, said the Philippines can be used as an example of a nation that has taken steps to implement measures to address the issues of hounding the labor sector such as human trafficking.
“There are things that are great, there are things that we can use and the Philippines as an example, as a model,” the ILO official said.
Among those who attended the meeting were ILO Senior Adviser for Asia Hitome Nakagome, ILO Country Director for the Philippines Khalid Hassan, and UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines Gustavo Gonzalez.