Senatoriables steal labor day limelight, as workers push wage hike


Photos and video by VINCENT GO

Senatorial candidates stole the limelight from the working class at yesterday’s Labor Day protest rallies, where workers called for a wage increase, bigger tax relief, an end to contractualization, non-wage benefits and lower prices of basic commodities.

Cameras and microphones turned away from the labor leaders on stage to senatorial candidates Teodoro Casiño, Alan Peter Cayetano, JV Ejercito, Risa Hontiveros, Jamby Madrigal, Ricardo Penson and Eddie Villanueva who attended the rallies, with less than two weeks to go before the May 13 mid-term elections.

Casiño joined the march of the militant labor groups, while the other six attended the rally of Nagkaisa, a coalition of various labor organizations in the Philippines.

Jamby Madrigal (center) and six other senatorial candidates join the May 1 Labor Day rally. Photo by VINCENT GO
Jamby Madrigal (center) and six other senatorial candidates join the May 1 Labor Day rally. Photo by VINCENT GO

Villanueva, also a religious leader, started with a plea to the administration: “I appeal to the government: Let us open our minds and our hearts. If we really want to be a great country, let us not forget the workers and farmers.”

Makabayan Coalition candidate Casiño said that this year, the administration’s anti-labor agenda has become more pronounced.

And despite President Benigno Aquino rebuffing the demands of the labor groups, Team Pnoy candidates said they continue to support workers.

“Let us fight for this even if this goes all the way up [to the president]. This should be granted as well as the non-wage benefits and security of tenure),” Hontiveros said.

Wage hike

Aquino, in the pre-labor day dialogue with workers, particularly Nagkaisa leaders, rejected the proposal to raise tax exemption for bonuses and other benefits. The president has also been mum on the proposed wage hike, and refused to certify as urgent the security of tenure bill, which puts a six-month limit to probationary employment, regardless of the nature of work.

Aquino said he could not certify the bill as urgent measures that address public calamity or emergency. He also said the bill is against the administration’s agenda to create jobs. According to him, only 1.8 million Filipinos will benefit from it, while 100 million will lose their jobs.

Defending Aquino, Team Pnoy candidate Cayetano said, “There are many laws which do not start out to be priorities. But when people get together, their voices are heard. Eventually, these measures become laws.”

All the candidates agreed workers should be granted a wage hike although they differed certain issues.

The militant groups are asking for a P125 across the board increase in minimum wage, while Nagkaisa coalition is pushing an P85 hike.

Opposition candidate Ejercito said the wage hike should only be P85. “Not the P125. Let us not make businesses suffer, especially the small-scale industries,” he said.

For Madrigal, however, it was first things first. “I think the wage hike is important. But for me, it is more important to lessen the cost of living: prices of water, electricity and food.”

Mass for laborers

Earlier in the day, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle led a Labor Day Mass at the Quiapo Church.

“Labor is neither a punishment nor a burden,” Tagle said in his homily.

Tagle cited St. Joseph the Worker, whose feast is also celebrated every May 1. “Even Jesus Christ was a son of a carpenter—a son of a laborer,” he said.

Tagle also appealed to employers to prioritize workers’ welfare over capital and profit, stressing the primacy of human dignity.

“Without you, our society and our country will cease to exist. That’s why today, I do not want you to only hear about the sector’s problems but also of my profound and sincere recognition and gratitude,” he said.

Better pay

Several priests and bishops who assisted Cardinal Tagle also shared a boodle lunch with members of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) at the Plaza Miranda in front of the Quiapo Church and said they are one with the call to assert labor rights.

Labor groups march To Mendiola demanding higher wages and better benefits for workers during the May 1 rally.  Photo by Vincent Go
Labor groups march To Mendiola demanding higher wages and better benefits for workers during the May 1 rally. Photo by VINCENT GO

“We are expecting that the government should provide for the society’s breadwinners—the working class,” said KMU Chairperson Bong Labog.

He said more Filipinos joined this year’s demonstrations, dismayed with the result of what he called the “bola-bola breakfast.” He was referring to the pre-labor breakfast dialogue between Nagkaisa representatives and the president, which Labog said hardly produced any concrete gains.

Gerard Sena from the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines and a member of the Nagkaisa Coalition said that among their major demands during the meeting were higher wages, security of tenure and lower prices.

However, Aquino only granted them non-wage benefits, said Arnel Dolendo, National Secretary of the Philippine Trade and General Workers’ Organization (PTGWO).

“How can we use non-wage benefits to pay for our bills?” Dolendo said.

Labog, however, clarified that any initiative that would push for the realization of a wage increase was a “positive move.”

“We only differ in our approaches, but we all ask for the same benefits for laborers,” said Dolendo of the PTGWO.

Both groups also called for a price rollback on all goods and services and the abolition of contractualization.

Huge gathering

The Nagkaisa Coalition assembled early morning near the University of Sto. Tomas, with some senatorial candidates signing a pact to support labor groups.

The KMU protesters held an afternoon program at Liwasang Bonifacio, where representatives of the various sectors under the Kilusan expressed manifestos of support.

An estimated 8,000 protesters gathered in Mendiola around 5:30 p.m., according to Senior Supt. Robert Po of the Manila Police District, while about 2,000 policemen were deployed around the city during the day of demonstrations.

(Darlene Cay and Melissa Luz Lopez are University of the Philippines journalism students who are writing for VERA Files as part of their internship.)