Expanded student cash doles, power refunds sought
MANILA, Philippines—Labor groups and economic experts are pressing the Arroyo administration to bail out workers displaced by the global economic crisis by expanding the government’s cash subsidy programs.
The government should earmark part of the P330-billion stimulus package it is seeking to boost the economy to help jobless Filipino workers and spur consumer spending, the labor organizations and experts said.
Former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno suggested the government make the conditional cash program—which provides a cash incentive to Grade 1-4 students in exchange for their daily school attendance—universal to public school students.
At present, the program only reaches the poorest students in selected regions or about seven percent of the total requirement, Diokno said.
Under the cash-for-school attendance subsidy managed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, a student from an extremely poor family receives P300 per month as long as he attends 85 percent of school days.
Diokno also recommended the Arroyo administration widen the scope of refunds for poor electricity consumers. According to the University of the Philippines’ School of Economics professor, the current scheme only targets Metro Manila residents and excludes poor families in the countryside.
Renato Magtubo, chair of the militant Partido ng Mangagawa, said a bailout package for workers would keep families and industries afloat during these hard times.
“The bailout and stimulus package must aim to put money in the hands of the workers and the poor to counteract the economic downturn. The consumers, the overwhelming majority of whom are workers and the poor, should be able to continue buying their necessities and thereby keep the wheels of production rolling,” the PM leader said in a statement.
‘Not their fault’
“Industry will collapse if it is squeezed by a tightening of commercial credit on the one hand and, on the other, by a contraction in consumer spending,” he said.
In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Susan Ople of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center said the government should provide allowances to returning overseas Filipino workers who had lost their jobs.
Ople said it should not be construed as a “dole out” because “these workers have dignity. They work. It’s not their fault that they lost their jobs.”
The government should also publish details of the retraining package and financial assistance program for OFWs so that even those who return to the provinces would be able to access it, she said.
She noted that many OFWs who were retrenched abroad—a chunk of them in factories in Taiwan and South Korea—returned to Manila saddled with debts.
Since many of them were not able to finish their two- to three-year contracts, placement fees that were supposed to be deducted from their salaries had not been fully paid.
She appealed to the lending firms to freeze the interest on the balance of OFW debts until they find new jobs.
Ople also called on the government to convene a tripartite summit with workers and the private sector, saying the workers have not been well-informed about the stimulus plan.
“A tripartite labor summit will enable all affected sectors and our policy-makers to work together based on clear targets and a unified action plan,” Ople said.
Ople said workers in export processing zones are anxious about their future. Many have been laid off, while others are working reduced hours because their employers face reduced orders for their products from traditional markets like the United States, Europe and Taiwan.
According to Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, “hundreds” of Filipinos lose their jobs daily because of the recession.
More layoffs expected
He noted that 15,000 workers, mostly from the semiconductor and electronics export sector, have already been laid off. He also disclosed that 19,000 workers have seen their working hours reduced.
The labor chief said they expect more layoffs in Philippine companies, but added that the numbers were still not as bad as feared. He also stressed that domestic companies were not as affected by the financial meltdown as export-oriented firms.
As for the Filipinos laid off abroad, Roque said the Department of Labor and Employment had sent teams to Taiwan, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates to assist them.
The teams will also draw up profiles of the retrenched workers in order to refer them to local or overseas companies who need workers with their skills.
“As necessary, they [affected workers] will be issued pertinent Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) vouchers for training or retooling,” Roque said. –Kristine L. Alave, Erika Sauler, Philippine Daily Inquirer, with a report from Michael Lim Ubac