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Thousands of workers join May Day protests in Manila and elsewhere, demanding higher wages
MANILA, Philippines (AP) ' 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 Malacanang presidential palace, which teemed with thousands of riot policemen, 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.
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, were to hold a protest and burn Aquino's effigy later Tuesday 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.
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 the poorer eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak. 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.
The workers also accused Maybank of exploiting poorer workers with lower bonus payments, contributing to a widening income disparity with senior managers.
They also said the bank was undermining trade union rights with the recent dismissal of two union officials and the creation of an in-house union group, challenging the official National Union of Bank Employees.
In Taiwan, several thousand anti-government protesters marched through downtown Taipei, demanding higher wages, lower school tuition and better conditions for foreign workers.
Associated Press writers Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Peter Enav in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.