Poverty threshold is ‘statistical magic trick,’ wages in 2015 still inadequate – KMU

In a statement dated December 22, the Labor Department said Central Luzon will increase wages by P15-P20 per day starting January 1 and will bring the highest minimum wage in the region to P364, which is higher than the P248 poverty threshold in the region for a family of five.

With this, the Labor Department claimed that in 2015, for the first time in history, Filipino workers are enjoying wages above the poverty threshold. Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz even said that “This is a victory not only for all Filipino workers, but for all Filipinos.”

The so-called “poverty threshold” is one of the Aquino government’s statistical magic tricks to make it appear that it has lifted workers out of poverty and has reduced the number of Filipinos living in poverty. It does not mean an improvement in the lives of workers and their families.

Instead of actually, or significantly, increasing wages, the Aquino government invented a very low standard for measuring wages so that it could make the false claim that the condition of workers has improved. The Central Luzon poverty threshold of P248 for a family, or P49.60 for an individual, is most insulting and revolting for workers of the region and the entire country.

We reject the poverty threshold as a standard for measuring wages. It is pathetically low, its attainment does not mean an improvement in the lives of workers and their families. It does not even mean that they got some immediate relief from the soaring prices of basic goods and payments for basic services.

The poverty threshold is a result of the Aquino government’s objective of reducing the number of poor Filipinos in paper. What we want is a return to the living wage as a standard, which is part of workers’ and Filipinos’ struggle to actually reduce the number of poor Filipinos.

Instead of the poverty threshold, we support independent think-tank Ibon Foundation’s computation of the Family Living Wage, which was carried out before by the National Wages and Productivity Commission. In July 2015, Ibon estimated that the FLW was already at P1,086.

Using Ibon’s FLW as a standard, Filipino workers today are worse off than they were years ago. In 2001, the minimum wage was 50 percent of the FLW. Now, the Metro Manila minimum wage of P481, the highest in the country, is only 44 percent of the FLW. Because of soaring prices and meager wage hikes, the gap between the minimum wage and the FLW has increased.

We continue to demand a P125 across-the-board wage hike for Filipino workers. What we want is a significant wage hike that will bring the minimum wage closer to the living wage, and will correct the meager wage hikes that were approved for decades. This is the kind of wage increase that will give workers immediate relief.

We continue to demand the implementation of a National Minimum Wage in the amount of P750 for private-sector workers. We want an end to the unjust and extremely exploitative regionalized wage setting currently being implemented in the country.