Hundreds of workers are set to troop to the gates of the House of Representatives in Quezon City when Congress resumes session on Jan. 16. They will press for the immediate passage of wage increase bill in the face of escalating prices and government promise of tax exemptions and other non-wage benefits.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Eliseo Taping, a worker of the Alchophil Metal, Inc. (AMI), is one of the hundreds of workers who will troop to the House of Representatives (HOR) in Quezon City on Jan. 16 to press for the immediate passage of two bills. They are House Bills 345, which seeks a P125 across the board wage increase, and HB 4240, which grants tax exemptions to workers earning equal to or below P20,000 ($381.71 at P52.395 to a $1) a month.
Workers have been calling for a legislated wage hike since 1999 while the tax exemption bill has been pending in Congress since April last year.
The renewed calls for wage increase and tax exclusions came amidst escalating prices due to the implementation of the Expanded Value Added Tax (E-VAT) and the government’s announcements that effective Jan. 1, workers earning P15,000 a month and below shall be exempted from paying government taxes.
But the pay slips of AMI workers earning an average of P328 a day or P7,872 a month ($150.25 at P52.395 to $1) show that they have not been exempted from paying government taxes.
“Hanggang TV lang yung tax exemptions” (The tax exemptions are just TV news), said Rodolfo Acay, Alchophil Workers’ Union (AWU) president, echoing assertions of progressive labor organizations that the government’s tax exemption scheme is nothing but media hype.
Prestoline Suyat, spokesperson of the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement), said the government’s tax exemption program only aims to dampen the public clamor for a legislated wage increase.
He noted that the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) offered a tax exemption scheme after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo dangled in December last year a legislated wage increase for both the private and public sectors. She took it back however after the business sector complained and instead went for the offer of the labor department.
On the other hand, Suyat said the tax exemption benefit is “a farce” because DoLE’s offer is to exempt the workers from paying monthly dues but should instead pay taxes annually. “Kaya hindi naman talaga tax exemption ang programa ng gobyerno kundi delay lang sa pagbabayad ng tax,” he said.
Cost of living
Taping, who receives a minimum wage rate, said minimal tax exemptions and non-wage benefits would not make life better for workers like home.
His gross pay amounts to around P12,042, which includes an overtime pay of about P4,170. For this, he is taxed P1,016 a month. He is also deducted the following amount every month: P1,445.04 (12 percent of his gross pay) to the Social Security System (SSS), P100 to the Pag-Ibig Housing Fund and P125 to Medicare.
This leaves him with a net pay of P9,355.96.
This means his family lives on a P311.86 daily budget, P369.13 short of the government’s computation of P681 daily cost of living allowance.
Taping is the breadwinner of a family of six. His wife stays at home and takes care of their three children aged five, two and one. He also sends his younger sibling to school.
They rent a house near AMI which they pay for P1,000 a month. They earlier left a bigger house because they could not afford the P1,800 a monthly rent.
He said they pay around P500 a month for electricity and P800 for water, aside from another P140 for drinking water. Water has to be ordered, said Taping, because there is no water line in the part of Valenzuela City where they live.
Because of the high cost of basic services, Taping said they make do with a measly P150 a day for food. This allows them only two meals a day, which usually consists of rice, a half kilo of tilapia (a fresh water fish) which costs around P30, sardines or noodles.
Living on a very tight budget, Taping said his family could not afford to get sick. “Pag may nagkasakit sa amin nangungutang na lang ako kaya yung sweldo ko pambayad utang na lang” (When someone gets sick, I have to borrow money and my salary gets gobbled up by loan payment), he said.
Although he pays his monthly dues to Medicare, he said he could only use the health card if he or anyone in his family is confined in the hospital.
Acop complained that while they are required to pay their dues to Medicare, there is no refund at the end of the year if they did not avail of its benefits. “May 15 taon na akong nagbabayad ng Medicare pero hanggang ngayon hindi ko pa napakinabangan” (I’ve been paying for Medicare for 15 years but I’ve never gotten anything from it), he said.
“Makakaalwan lang kami sa buhay kung talagang madadagdagan ang sahod” (Our life will improve only if our salary is increased), he added. Bulatlat.com