Demonstrators take part in a Labor Day rally in Manila on 1 May 2023. Demonstrators take part in a Labor Day rally in Manila on 1 May 2023.  (AFP or licensors)

Filipino Bishop: Current basic wage in Philippines ‘unjust’

As prices remain high in the Philippines, a Filipino bishop backs calls for legislation to raise the minimum wage, saying the current basic wage is “insufficient for a decent living.”

By Zeus Legaspi

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, of the Diocese of San Carlos, has lamented the situation of Filipino workers, calling their situation “unjust” as inflation has eased recently but prices of goods remain high in the country.

In an interview with Vatican News on Tuesday, the bishop said that in the Philippines, “what we call ‘minimum wage’ is not necessarily a just wage, or a living wage, or a family wage.”

Data from the Philippine National Wages and Productivity Commission reveals that the average monthly minimum wage in the country is only 8,902 pesos, or a little over 145 euro.

In contrast, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that as of 2021, the poverty threshold for a family of five, or the minimum monthly income that a family of five needs to meet basic food and non-food requirements, is 12,030 pesos (196.45 euro). This, however, means that every family member must survive on 80 pesos (1.31 euro) a day.

Worsening problem

The constant increase in the price of goods has made it more difficult for Filipinos to get by as the real value of their wages has declined.

“They did not match the increase in prices,” the bishop said, referring to past wage hikes implemented in the country.

“The majority of the workers have been impoverished. So, if you ask me how is the situation of the workers in the past years, it has really grown worse,” he added.

Aside from an insufficient minimum wage, the bishop said that some workers do not have benefits and security of tenure.

Further, Bishop Alminaza, who is also the chairperson of Church People-Workers Solidarity (CWS), pointed out that in the Philippines, the agricultural sector – the sector of society that produce food – is “the poorest among the poor.”

The bishop also stressed CWS’ show of support for two congressional bills that are proposing a wage increase in the country. These are House Bill No. 7568, which proposes a 750 peso minimum wage increase, and Senate Bill No. 2002 that seeks for a 150 peso increase.

“We have to give to the workers what is really due to them. That is the basic requirement of charity, of love – to give justice,” the bishop said.

‘Fratelli tutti’ in wage

In a separate statement, the bishop emphasized that a living wage is “necessary and just” and is fundamental to Catholic Social Teaching, since it is “closely linked to human dignity.”

“Jesus grew up as a son of a carpenter. He was referred to as the carpenter’s son. So, it was Jesus bringing dignity to work,” he said.

“The Social Teaching of the Church is to uphold the dignity of labor, of workers,” the bishop added.

But Bishop Alminaza said that the overall basis of his stance on wage and labor is Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli tutti. “We are brothers and sisters and if we are in a family, we share everything in the family. We support and protect each other. But that is not happening in the workplace,” he said.

He added that Filipino workers are not being looked after and are often working in poor and oppressive conditions. He then appealed to companies to think of employees as a family, because “capital without labor will never grow,” the bishop said.

Multiple groups in the past have called for a wage hike in the Philippines. However, the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte had one of the lowest wage increases among six administrations since 1986, with only a 16.1% increase in minimum wage from 2016 to 2022.

Meanwhile, incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is yet to mandate any wage increase.

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09 May 2023, 16:22