SWIMMING AGAINST THE CURRENT
By DR. JESUS ESTANISLAO
It is never enough to promote and accelerate economic growth, create jobs, provide income and investment opportunities even for those at the bottom of the pyramid. It is also absolutely essential that income disparity and inequality with respect to access to economic opportunity should be narrowed in our Dream Philippines..
Such disparity and inequality are inevitable. Differences in talent, personal equipment, and individual preferences, among other factors, are bound to catapult a few in our society to the top of the pyramid, while a few others may fall towards the bottom. But in a society with an open, democratic, and egalitarian orientation, there should be every attempt to open wide the social and economic opportunities for all, and access to such opportunities should be as easy and as equal as possible to all, especially to those willing to work hard and spend a lot of effort to keep improving themselves.
This brings up the second strategic priority under this perspective, and it is the promotion of social equity and reduction of economic opportunity as well as income inequality in our country. Our current reality is for the dice to be loaded: in favor of those who already have much; and very much against those who have much less in life. More concretely, too many of our fellow citizens are paid low wages relative to the price inflation they have to contend with. And while this remains the lot of so many trapped in the vicious circle of lack of economic and income opportunity, the few rich in our society keep accumulating more and more wealth and greater control over many sectors of our economy and society.
A striking statistic: in a number of our big corporations, the total number of their minimum wage earners or contractual workers comprise from 50% to 90% of their total number of employees. The practice is common for contractual employees to be terminated by the end of the 5th month to avoid regularization of these employees, which would entail paying the benefits due to regular employees. We already have a law to do away with this practice; but we need more than mere laws. We absolutely need an orientation, backed up by conviction, towards favoring those at work. Yes, indeed, they have to work hard and efficiently. They also have to be provided additional training so newer and better opportunities are opened for those who wish to rise to higher positions. But in the process, everyone who works should be paid a living wage, i.e. a compensation that would allow a person to live a decent human life and support a family such that children are provided with all the necessary opportunities for personal formation and development.
We also need to pass a law — as has been done in a number of European countries, e.g., France and Germany — requiring that the salary of the highest-paid executive of any company (the CEO) must not be more than 10 or at most 20 times the salary of the lowest paid employee in that company. In the Philippines, it would be great if we can embrace the same idea (the ratio may be different), but the important thing is for us to be able to send the message across all sectors of our economy, that we all have the moral obligation to uplift the lives of our people, starting with those working within our immediate backyard.
Passing such a law could be a start; but of much greater importance is our orientation, substantiated by actual practices, to instill a deeper sense of social solidarity among those who are at the very top of the economic ladder. Instead of focusing only on what they earn and on accumulating an overly huge discretionary income to cater to their overly luxurious lifestyle, they can give much greater weight to pay practices and training programs such that those who work can earn more and can be motivated to keep developing themselves: they need to be continuously enabled and capacitated to keep going up the economic and social ladder.