Workers demand pay hikes at Asia’s May Day marches
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.
In Moscow, around 100,000 people — including President Dmitry Medvedev and president-elect Vladimir Putin — took part in the main march through the city center.
Television images showed the two leaders happily chatting with participants on the clear-and-cool spring day.
Many banners and placards criticized the opposition movement that has become more prominent in Moscow over the past half-year. One read “spring has come, the swamp has dried up,” referring to Bolotnaya (Swampy) Square, the site of some of the largest opposition demonstrations of recent months.
In Asia, 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 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 Taiwan, several thousand anti-government protesters marched through downtown Taipei, demanding higher wages, lower school tuition and better conditions for foreign workers.
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 workforce.
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 Hong Kong, more than 1,000 joined a protest march to demand that the city’s minimum wage, which was introduced exactly a year ago, be raised to 33 Hong Kong dollars ($4.25) per hour from HK$28 ($3.60), according to local broadcaster RTHK. They also want the government of the southern Chinese financial hub to implement a 44-hour work week.
In nearby Macau, about 500 people marched for workers’ rights and full democracy in the legislature, the broadcaster said.
Associated Press writers Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong, Peter Enav in Taipei, Taiwan, and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.