Bicol Minimum Wage Hearing Ends in Deadlock Over Wage Adjustment

Legazpi City – The regional public hearing on the minimum wage adjustment for private sector workers in the Bicol Region concluded with labor and management failing to reach an agreement. The event, held at the Concourse Convention Center in Legazpi City on Monday, October 2, was the culmination of a series of consultations conducted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Bicol and the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB) across the six provinces of the Bicol Region.

During the hearing, one of the central figures in the debate was Buklurang Mangagagawang Pilipino (BMP), a labor group from Camarines Norte, which presented a petition for a substantial increase in the current minimum wage. They called for a raise of P750, which would significantly alter the current P365 daily minimum wage in the Bicol region. 

According to Sanny Aquino, BMP President, the existing rate is insufficient to sustain a family given the rising cost of living, “Ang nakapalaman po doon base sa statistics na pag aaral na kung sususugin natin, hindi po sapat para makabuhay sa may mga limang anak, ang standard po natin ay 365 per day, hindi po talaga makakabuhay ng pamilya”. 

In response, representatives from the management and business owners expressed their limitations in granting such a substantial increase. They countered with an offer of only a P15 wage hike, citing their ongoing recovery from the economic setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. They argued that an increase in the minimum wage would lead to corresponding rises in mandatory government deductions, such as Social Security System (SSS), Pag-ibig, and other contributions.

Despite the labor sector’s passionate plea for an P80 increase, underscored by the Philippine Statistics Office’s assessment that the current P365 minimum wage only amounts to P288 due to inflation and cost of living, the management and business owners remained unyielding.

DOLE Bicol Regional Director Ma. Zenaida Angara-Campita, who presided over the hearing, noted that in cases where both parties fail to reach an agreement, the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board would have to make the final decision. The board includes representatives from both the labor and management sectors, and their role is pivotal in ensuring a balanced and equitable resolution to wage disputes.

“We have to balance the interest of most, ayaw natin na mawala naman yung trabaho dito o kaya maaapektuhan ang economic gains natin towards the end. So ang important is you balance the needs and you provide the needs of the workers as well as the capacity of the employers to pay, we have to respect that. Alam naman natin na kailangan natin yang tingnan dahil di naman tayo katulad ng Metro Manila na anytime meron tayong client hindi nawawalan ,dito medyo hindi pa tayo ganun so we need to balance everything”, says Campita.

Throughout the provincial consultation rounds leading up to the regional hearing, Campita observed that business owners themselves recognized the pressing need for a wage increase. They acknowledged the challenges posed by rising commodity prices and the importance of ensuring that workers can afford a decent standard of living.

“Medyo nakakapanibago kasi kahit ang employers ina-acknowledge ang needs of workers,dati kasi na experience ko yan sa Naga no increase pero ngayon sila na din nagtatakda na it’s high time that we raise the minimum wage of the workers kasi nga sunod sunod yung pagtaas ng presyo though sila rin affected naman ng pagtaas ng prices because yung kanilang mga materials eh tumataas, transport, gasolina na ginagamit nila but they still acknowledge the needs of workers, yun ang nakakatuwa”, she added.

This regional public hearing has highlighted the complexity of wage negotiations, with labor seeking a substantial raise to cope with the increased cost of living, while management is concerned about its ability to absorb such a cost in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

The final decision, which rests with the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board, will need to strike a delicate balance between these competing interests, with the aim of promoting both economic recovery and the well-being of the workforce in the Bicol Region. 

As mandated by the law, the board is required to issue an order within thirty days of this hearing. Campita says however, even after the board issues the order, it cannot be published unless it receives approval from the National Wages and Productivity Commission. If the commission approves, the proposed increase will be published on a specified date, and the wage order will become effective 15 days after its publication.

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