By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

LEGISLATORS must reform the regional wage-setting system to ensure that pay keeps up with the rising cost of living, a labor group said.

“Though not among the priority measures of this administration, the Federation of Free Workers (FFW) would like to express its commitment to addressing the pressing low wage issue that continues to burden the Filipino workers,” Jose G. Matula, president of the FFW, said in a Viber message.

The Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) on Wednesday said it has identified 10 priority bills which it is backing for passage by the end of the year.

Mr. Matula said the government should not overlook proposals to improve the situation of the workforce and renewing organized labor’s support for a P150 legislated wage hike.

“We propose the immediate review and adjustment of the minimum wage to ensure that it adequately covers the basic needs of workers, taking into account the rising cost of living and inflation,” he said.

In March, Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri filed a bill seeking to increase the minimum wage for such workers by P150.

Mr. Zubiri said last month that he would appeal to the President to consider the legislated wage hike, even if it is not listed as a LEDAC priority.

“We need it. Our countrymen are really struggling,” the Senate president said.

At the House of Representatives, the Makabayan coalition proposed a wage hike of P750 for all private sector workers, including those working in special economic zones, freeports, and in agriculture.

Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno and National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan have warned that proposals to legislate a P150 wage hike would stoke inflation.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines has said that a legislated wage hike should also consider workers in less formal employment, noting that private-sector workers only make up 16% of the workforce.

Labor groups have cited the need to review the wage-setting process since many workers still live in poverty even after the recent P40 wage hike in Metro Manila.

On June 29, the Metro Manila regional wage board approved a P40 increase to the minimum wage, bringing daily pay to P610 a day.

The increase is much lower than the amount sought by the Unity for Wage Increase Now, which is a P570 increase that would lift the daily minimum wage in Metro Manila to P1,100.

Labor Secretary Bienvenido E. Laguesma has said his department will defer to Congress should it decide to intervene with a wage hike law.

Legislators should work on coming up with ways to strengthen safety nets, insurance coverage, and job security for job-order workers, Mr. Matula added.

Unemployment rose to 4.8% in July from 4.5% a month earlier. Job quality deteriorated as the underemployment rate, which measures employed workers looking for more work or longer hours, rose to a 20-month high of 15.9% from 12% in June.

“The FFW recognizes the importance of economic growth and the development of our nation,” Mr. Matula said. “However, it is equally crucial to ensure that the benefits of this progress are justly distributed among all sectors of society, particularly our hard-working classes.”