THE Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) said Thursday that pandemic-weakened companies cannot as yet absorb a sharp rise in the minimum wage, as demanded by unions.

Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said in a televised briefing: “We have to consider so many things. We need to balance the interests of workers with that of the employers. What is important for workers right now is their status of employment. A P700 or P750 national minimum wage cannot be handled by employers right now.”

Labor groups called for an increase in the minimum wage in the wake of rising prices of basic goods.

Mr. Bello, speaking in English and Filipino, said micro, small and medium enterprises, which comprise nearly 99% of the registered businesses, will be the hardest hit by a wage hike. He said they are barely surviving due to the pandemic.

The P537 daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is equivalent to P434 when adjusted for inflation.

The nominal daily minimum wage outside the National Capital Region (NCR), on the hand, ranges from P310 to P420, falling to P234 and P333, respectively, when adjusted for inflation.

Kilusang Mayo Uno, a labor union, said it will refile its petition to increase the minimum wage in the NCR. An earlier petition had been set aside by the NCR wage board in June due to the pandemic.

A wage increase has become “more urgent” because of rising food prices, the group said.

“As of now the business community cannot afford to provide salary increases… Let the economy normalize before getting back to the bargaining table,” Emmanuel J. Lopez, dean of Colegio de San Juan de Letran Graduate School, told BusinessWorld in a Viber message Thursday.

Instead of increasing wages, he said the government should focus on properly utilizing the P4.5-trillion national budget this year to help pandemic-hit sectors bounce back.

At the briefing, Mr. Bello said more than 50,000 Filipino migrant workers have so far been inoculated against the coronavirus.

He said as many as 60,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) withdrew their requests for repatriation after receiving vaccinations in their host countries.

“Of the 500,000 OFWs who asked for repatriation, some 60,000 backed out since they have already been vaccinated,” he said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza