June 5, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang expressed confidence it could work out a solution to the legislated wage hike issue without necessarily compromising the workers’ welfare and the stability of the business environment.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye and Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio in separate statements maintained salary hikes can be best addressed through the regional tripartite wage and productivity boards (RTWPBs).

"Any wage hikes would definitely be most welcome but these have to be worked out over a harmonious and well-balanced industrial environment for investors, workers and jobseekers," Bunye said.

"We don’t have to make a spat out of the wage issue because all stakeholders agree that we have to preserve jobs and create more, and accord some relief to our workers while keeping inflation under control," he added.

Claudio, on the other hand, criticized Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran for accusing President Arroyo of insulting lawmakers in rejecting the P125 legislated wage hike.

Claudio said the detained militant lawmaker is trying to sow intrigue between Malacañang and Congress.

He said it was "inappropriate" of Beltran to attempt to drive a wedge in the relations between Congress and Malacañang over House Bill No. 345.

"The last thing the Palace would want to do is to insult the House, which the government and the Filipino people applaud for having approved and sent to the Senate no less than 68 legislative measures of national significance in the current 13th Congress," Claudio said.

He said Malacañang had always been consistent in its belief and policy that wage adjustment issues are better resolved by RTWPBs.

Claudio maintained the wage board is the proper venue for issues calling for any wage increase since "the positions of management, labor and government are advocated and balanced in the context of regional economic peculiarities throughout the country."

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. also urged all regional wage boards across the country to conduct public hearings on the possibility of granting new wage increases.

Pimentel made the recommendation after learning from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that some wage boards are conducting hearings in areas where labor groups have lodged their petition for wage increase.

"It is wrong to assume that there is no need for wage increase just because no group or individual bothered to formally request a regional board to raise the minimum wage," Pimentel said.

He said the regional wage board should act on its own initiative without waiting for the petition or request.

Pimentel noted the resistance of employers and big business groups on the P125 legislated wage hike approved by the House of Representatives. He said the government should start weighing its options before workers "die of hunger."

Pimentel also noted the issue might force some industries to close shop if the wage increase will be forced on them.

‘I hope that they (regional wage boards) will make up their minds before the workers die of hunger. There is a certain degree of urgency here. And the sooner the regional wage boards act on the issue, the better it is for our people," he said.

Claudio, on the other hand, urged the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) to continue its support for the administration’s efforts.

The PCCI earlier threatened to withdraw its support for the administration’s move to amend the Constitution if the P125 legislated wage hike is signed into law.

Claudio said he thought that the PCCI’s support for Charter change has always been "one of conviction and belief in the urgency of constitutional reforms to provide stability and economic growth for our country."

He said the business group should treat Charter change as a separate issue from moves to increase wages.

"We understand and support the position of PCCI as far as tapping regional wage boards is concerned, so there is no need to involve political matters that are extraneous to the wage issue, such as Charter change," Claudio said. "We’re asking PCCI to immediately engage leaders of Congress in a constructive dialogue about the consequences of a legislated wage increase, without using support or withdrawal of support for Charter change as leverage," Claudio said.

The militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) also threatened more workers will be joining the clamor for President Arroyo’s resignation if the administration does not support the legislated wage hike.

"From the very start, Malacañang is against the granting of any legislated wage hike for workers. The President’s loyalty to big businesses is unfailing. She is too afraid to lose the confidence and trust of employers," said KMU chairman Elmer Labog.

According to Labog, "it will too politically costly" for Mrs. Arroyo to reject the legislated wage hike.

The militant labor group also challenged House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles (Davao City) to prove his command over administration legislators and ensure the passage of the legislated wage hike bill in its third and final reading in the plenary session.

"Rep. Nograles better keep his word of honor to prioritize and ensure the passage of the legislated wage hike bill. Administration (legislators) must not give in to presidential pressure (and) should not accede to Malacañang’s stance on the wage hike," Labog warned. - With Christina Mendez, James Mananghaya

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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