Workers demand pay hikes at Asia’s May Day marchesBy AP News May 01, 2012 4:55PM UTC
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — May Day moved beyond its roots as an international workers’ holiday to a day of international protest Tuesday, with rallies throughout Asia demanding wage increases and marches planned across Europe over government-imposed austerity measures.
Europeans will take to the streets to protest against the measures that are being blamed for a big increase in the number of unemployed, particularly in Spain where one in four people is out of work.
In the United States, demonstrations, strikes and acts of civil disobedience are planned, including what could be the country’s most visible Occupy rallies since the anti-Wall Street encampments came down in the fall.
In Asia, thousands of May Day protesters in the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan demanded hikes in pay that they say has not kept up with rising consumer prices, while also calling for lower school fees and expressing a variety of other gripes.
“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 the Philippine capital, Manila, about 8,000 members of a huge labor alliance, many clad in red shirts and waving red streamers, marched under a brutal sun for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to the heavily barricaded Mendiola bridge near the Malacanang presidential palace, which teemed with thousands of riot police, Manila police chief Alex Gutierrez said.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III rejected their calls for a $3 daily pay hike, which he warned could worsen inflation, spark layoffs and turn away foreign investors.
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.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, some 500 people rallied, calling for a higher minimum wage than the one announced Monday by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Najib’s plan for the country’s first-ever minimum wage calls for minimum monthly pay of 900 ringgit ($297) for private-sector workers in peninsula Malaysia and 800 ringgit ($264) in two poor eastern states. The move is expected to benefit 3.2 million low-income workers, who account for about a third of the country’s work force.
The protesters marched from a market to the headquarters of Maybank, the nation’s largest bank, calling for a minimum monthly wage of 1,500 ringgit ($496) a month.
In Taiwan, several thousand anti-government protesters marched through downtown Taipei, demanding higher wages, lower school tuition and better conditions for foreign workers.