By Gillian M. Cortez

A MAJOR union has expressed its opposition to a proposed tax on salty foods, saying it adds to the burden on workers by rasing the cost of key goods while wages remain stagnant.

Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) Spokesperson Alan A. Tanjusay told BusinessWorld this week that the proposed tax measure does not consider that many low-income workers have no choice but to eat salty food despite being aware of the health effects of food processing.

“The proposed measure to impose tax on salty food is not acceptable at this time. If the government begins to tax salty food with (workers’) current meager and inadequate salaries, government itself is putting its poor working people at further risk,” he told BusinessWorld.

TUCP has used the Pinggang Pinoy model of the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DoST-FNRI) as the basis for its wage petitions, arguing that current pay is not adequate to ensure nutritious meals for workers and their families. A computation made by the Ateneo Policy Center in May indicates that a P734.00 daily wage is needed for a family of four to afford food that meets Pinggang Pinoy’s nutrition minimums.

The average daily minimum wage for Filipinos in the private sector varies by region, and ranges from P270 and P537.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III floated the idea of a salt tax last month as a means of reducing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), where excessively salty foods are a risk factor. He has adjusted his position, adding over the weekend that a salt tax is “anti-poor” but the government still needs to implement salt reduction schemes to discourage consumption.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Filipinos consume more than double of the required daily sodium intake of five grams.

A recent study released by the DoH in partnership with the WHO, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Interagency Task Force (UNIATF) concluded that by investing P5 billion in measures to reduce salt intake such as new labelling rules over the next 15 years, the economy could generate a P163.1 billion return from increased productivity and prevent 164,251 deaths that would have otherwise taken place.

The Department of Finance (DoF) was tepid on the proposed tax in contrast to its usual eagerness to tax unhealthy behaviors. It proposed a more robust “health education” program to address salt consumption.

The DoF and DoH are currently studying the proposed tax measure with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Mr. Tanjusay said that the government should also offer healthier alternatives to the food consumed by most Filipinos if it is serious about minimizing combat diseases brought about by consuming salt.