MANILA,  October 25, 2004
Malacañang assured workers yesterday that they will get their Christmas bonus despite the claim of employers that they are in financial straits.

"We understand the problems being faced by the businessmen, but of course the government will intervene for the interest of the workers, if it’s possible to give them their benefits," Malacañang communications chief Silvestre Afable told reporters.

"This can be negotiated through a dialogue. I think the government would strive to discuss with the private sector the provision of the maximum benefits of the employees, depending on the situation of the business concerned," he said.

The government will make representations with employers so workers would receive whatever benefit is due them, Afable said.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) said workers would be given their 13th month pay as mandated by law even if they would not receive their Christmas bonus.

Earlier, Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas said employers might not agree to a P125 across-the-board wage hike for workers nationwide.

It is impractical for business establishments to grant the salary increase demanded by organized labor as 95 percent of them are small and medium enterprises employing a minimum of 10 people and a maximum of 50, she added.

If the wage hike is implemented, companies might resort to retrenchment and mass layoffs, which might pose another threat to the economy, should investors decide to pull out of the country due to high labor costs, Sto. Tomas said.

On the other hand, Rene Soriano, ECOP president, said the financial difficulties of many commercial establishments would be "exacerbated" if workers are given a new raise in pay.

"It’s impossible to give another wage increase this year because it could only exacerbate the (financial) condition of many small and medium enterprises (SME)," he said.

Soriano said more than 99 percent of commercial firms in the country are SMEs which cannot afford to grant their workers another wage hike.

"Besides the additional P20 emergency cost of living allowance for workers in Metro Manila would already cost companies employing at least 100 workers some P300,000, which is already enough to put up a small business firm," he said.

President Arroyo has left to the various regional wage boards the decision to raise the daily minimum pay of workers within their jurisdiction.

"I acknowledge the clamor of our workers for better pay and I believe ordinary Filipinos must not only be guaranteed jobs but also be paid well enough to sustain their daily family needs," she said in a statement from Malacañang.

"This is being done in a way that is acceptable to both the employers and the workers, and determined by the market as well as social and humane considerations," she said.

Under the law, a wage hike petition must go through a public hearing and deliberation by a seven-man regional wage board comprised of two representatives each from labor and business, and three from the government.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the Department of Labor and Employment and the National Economic and Development Authority are carefully reviewing the implications of granting a salary increase and non-wage benefits to workers.

Organized labor has been pressing the government for a wage hike to allow workers to cope with the adverse effect of the falling peso and the rising prices of basic goods. — Marvin Sy

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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