Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Philippines to create 1.3M jobs

Labor summit counts pledges, notes P25-B outlay to protect workers

BUSINESS AND LABOR GROUPS, the academe and the government yesterday pushed for the creation of over 1.3 million jobs within the year and the allocation of around P25 billion to support employment as the country struggles to cope with the global economic crisis.

These initiatives were detailed in an eight-page communique signed by 138 participants who attended a government-sponsored labor summit in Malacañang yesterday.

The employment target involves both domestic and overseas positions. These include 824,555 jobs from the government’s emergency employment program, 80,000 to 100,000 committed by the Business Processing Association of the Philippines, and 400,000 jobs abroad based on the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s registered and active orders.

Summit participants also supported the allocation of at least 1.5% of the P1.415-trillion 2009 budget — about P21.23 billion — for the temporary hiring of displaced workers, as well as the setting aside of P3.9 billion to finance livelihood and microfinance projects.

The multisectoral summit also resolved to reduce the cost of doing business by, among others:

  • bringing down the cost of power;
  • faster import permit transactions for non-Philippine Economic Zone Authority firms;
  • relaxation of criteria for the extension of income tax holidays;
  • suspension of tariff reductions for five years;
  • fuel and transport subsidies; and
  • lowering costs of business licenses and permits.
  • Other recommendations include improving the marketing of products through tax incentives; facilitating the training and re-tooling of affected workers; and providing access to health services for affected workers and their dependents.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman emeritus Donald G. Dee said projects would immediately be implemented. The P3.9-billion livelihood and microfinance fund will be sourced from government coffers, he added.

"The business community is very supportive of these initiatives. If we can make 1.3 million jobs, that will cover those entering the job pool every year as well as those displaced. There’s always more that we could do but realistically, this is what we can do right now," he said.

Program implementation will be monitored through regular consultative meetings, Mr. Dee said, adding that a quarterly report will be submitted to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Jesus L. Arranza, president of the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), said programs stated in the communique were "doable".

Industries officials particularly noted calls to intensify efforts to curb smuggling as well as stronger enforcement of Executive Order 156 banning the importation of second-hand vehicles.

But Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. and Employers Confederation of the Philippines President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr. said the communique lacked initiatives to help the export industry, particularly a requested P1-billion export development fund.

"I didn’t see that. We requested that to help companies so those operating will not close shop," he said.

In addition, he stressed some of the programs were not "immediately implementable" such as the anti-smuggling and tariff reduction initiatives. Mr. Ortiz-Luis said these issues had been raised time and again in various manifestos and did not necessarily address the issue of employment.

"Some are doable but they should have focused on immediately implementable programs," he said.

Stakeholders also called on Congress to provide support by passing a pending stimulus package bill. The FPI’s Mr. Arranza said a copy of the communique would be sent to legislators.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Arroyo announced a package of programs aimed at generating more jobs for retrenched workers as well as helping companies cut operating costs.

In her opening remarks, the President said the government had responded to concerns raised during a tripartite labor meeting early this year.

The responses, she said, include the provision of "green-collar jobs" to Filipinos under a P2-billion reforestation fund as well as mobilizing nurses in the provinces under the Nurses Assigned to Rural Areas (NARS) program.

Budget Secretary Rolando T. Andaya, Jr. said P500 million would be allocated to the NARS initiative.

Mrs. Arroyo also announced that the Department of Trade and Industry had directed the Philippine Economic Zone Authority to implement fuel subsidies for firms operating in economic zones as well as measures to lower the cost of doing business.

Other proposals include condoning penalties and surcharges for Social Security System loans incurred by affected workers, a P1-billion standby fund for displaced seafarers and overseas Filipino workers, training programs, and working capital through loan facilities.

Mrs. Arroyo said the imposition of a moratorium on wages increases would be discussed during reviews to be made from July to August.

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