MANILA, Philippines - Thousands of workers marched under a brutal sun in the Philippine capital on Tuesday and called for pay hikes, as May Day protesters throughout Asia demanded increases in wages that they say have not kept up with rising consumer prices.
Workers in Malaysia and Taiwan also hit the streets, and though their gripes touched on a variety of issues, the push for wage increases was a common theme.
“It is always the case that low-income groups across Asia feel a disproportionately larger impact of rising prices,” said Wai Ho Leong, a Singapore-based economist with Barclays Capital. “Coupled with rising inflation expectations, the case is building to do more for lower income (workers). Minimum wages are one way.”
In Manila, about 8,000 members of a huge labor alliance, many clad in red shirts and waving red streamers, marched for four kilometers (2.5 miles) to the heavily barricaded Mendiola bridge near the Malacañang presidential palace, which teemed with thousands of riot policemen, Manila police chief Alex Gutierrez said.
Aside from pay hikes, protest leader Josua Mata from the Alliance of Progressive Labor urged Aquino to back proposed legislation against the widespread practices by businesses of contracting out certain operations to other companies to save on costs and preventing workers from organizing trade unions.
The workers dispersed peacefully after a street dialogue with three Cabinet officials. Thousands of members of another left-wing labor group, the May One Movement, held a protest and burned Aquino’s effigy at the historic Mendiola bridge, a popular venue for anti-government protests.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, some 500 people rallied, calling for a higher minimum wage than the one announced Monday by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
In Taiwan, several thousand anti-government protesters marched through downtown Taipei, demanding higher wages, lower school tuition and better conditions for foreign workers.