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Workers' Digest
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Workers' Digest
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Workers' Digest
Special Issue
September 2010

Social Protection for Workers and the Poor

The new government’s declaration that democracy should work for all should be made concrete by legislating a set of pro-labor, pro-poor, pro-women and pro-people reforms.

First, reform the wage-fixing mechanism since the yawning disparity between the minimum wage and the cost of living is the clearest expression of a system failure. The national floor wage proposed by the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) should be based on the cost of living of a working class family and indexed to inflation. The industry-based productivity schemes recommended by the NWPC should be drafted through industry-wide bargaining agreements. A National Wage Commission should replace the regional wage boards. The Wage Commission will have the mandate to fix wages based on the single criterion of cost of living instead of the present contradictory 10-point formula. The Wage Commission should equalize the floor wage to the level of the cost of living by a host of mechanisms among which are direct wage increases, tax exemptions, price discounts and social security subsidies for workers.

Second, establish a rudimentary unemployment insurance scheme for newly retrenched workers. The government must subsidize all workers who will be retrenched because of the global crisis. The Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Authority (OWWA) must use its funds to subsidize private sector workers, government employees and overseas contract workers respectively until they can find work up to a maximum of six months.

Third, improve the present public employment program. It is imperative to give jobs to the millions who are unemployed or underemployed. The emergency employment program must be reformed. Patronage politics must be exorcised from it by putting the employment program under the coownership if not control of people’s organizations. Minimum labor standards must be guaranteed instead of the present setup where the ‘kamineros,’ ‘oysters’ even nurses are hired on a contractual basis for below minimum wages. No matter that it is a dirty job as long as it is decent work. The public employment program should not be limited to street cleaning and whitewashing walls but must include restoring the environment and building housing for the poor aside from the usual public works projects. Given the sorry state of the environment and the backlog in public housing, just these two sectors are significant enough to provide millions of jobs for a start.

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