Double standard on wage hikes
The decision of the Supreme Court upholding the legality of a law ordering the payment of a minimum monthly salary of P30,000 to government nurses is both good news and bad news.
It’s good news because the government nurses’ almost two-decade long campaign for decent compensation has, finally, been realized.
The bad news is the high court did not order its immediate implementation. Instead, it left it to Congress to enact a law that would fund the salary adjustment.
By uncanny coincidence, news about the government nurses’ minimum monthly salary came out shortly after the celebration of National Teachers’ Month where public school teachers also called for a minimum monthly salary of P30,000.
These two sectors of government service claim (and rightfully so) they perform vital services to the public and therefore entitled to the salary adjustment earlier given to military and police personnel.
With the government’s tax reform programs still pending in Congress and the possible “domino effect” of wage increase demands from other government employees, it is doubtful if government nurses would be able to enjoy the benefits of the court’s decision any time soon.
But something doesn’t seem right in the court’s refusal to order the immediate implementation of the government nurses’ minimum salary after affirming its legality.
The court has, in effect, allowed the government to choose the time when it wants to comply (if at all) with the obligation given to it by Congress to upgrade the compensation of government nurses.
Thus, if Congress does not find it expedient at this time or next year to appropriate additional funds for government nurses, sorry na lang (it’s just too bad). The nurses may have to wait for another administration that would aggressively work to implement the salary adjustment.
The situation, however, is different if the party to whom a wage order is directed is the private sector. Its implementation will be swift and there will be no ifs or buts about it.
The minimum wage law is a classic example of this double standard. Recall that the power of the government to prescribe minimum wages for workers of private employers has been repeatedly upheld by the court as consistent with the state’s “police power” or its social justice obligation.
Wage increases of these workers take effect within the periods stipulated in the law or regional wage orders. Unless the business concerned has secured an exemption from the Department of Labor due its distressed financial condition, no excuses are permitted to prevent or defer the implementation of the wage adjustment.
The employer has to look for ways and means to pay his or her employees the prescribed minimum wage. Failure to pay the minimum wage would give rise to civil or criminal liabilities.
That rule does not seem to apply to the government, which is unfair because, to paraphrase a popular saying, what is sauce for the private sector should be sauce for the government.
After all, the financial needs of private workers are the same as those of government workers.
Laws that provide for specific wage scales to certain government employees without directly providing for their funding are no different from political gimmicks that politicians indulge in during election time.
These kinds of laws raise false expectations to the affected parties and heighten the citizens’ frustration with the government. Sadly, the government nurses’ empty court victory adds to the incentive for them to seek employment elsewhere in the world.
Incidentally, if Congress enacts a law providing for a minimum monthly salary of, say, P150,000 to lower court judges, there is no doubt the high court would uphold its validity.
But would it order its immediate implementation or would it wait for Congress to enact a law to fund it? Next question, please.
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