Nickel mine slashes jobs,as firms review workweek

Published by rudy Date posted on February 13, 2009

One of the biggest nickel mines in the country has suspended operations and cut more than 600 jobs, while Nissan Motor Philippines retired 15 percent of its workers.

Berong Nickel Corp, which began operations last year on western Palawan island, now has fewer than 50 people on site, its parent Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp. said Thursday in a statement to the Philippine Stock Exchange.

“All production activity at Berong Nickel Corp. has ceased for the time being,” Atlas said, adding that low-metal prices and plunging demand from China were to blame.

It said the Chinese market for laterite ore was “expected to remain depressed well into 2009” with Chinese imports expected to have totaled less than 1.5 million tons in the three months to December 2008.

Atlas said it expects full-scale mining operations at Berong to be “deferred until the second half of 2009,” although shipments from its stockpiles should resume in April.

Berong has a contract to supply Australian mining giant BHP Billiton with up to half a million tons of nickel laterite ore until 2013, with an option to extend it for a further five years.

The statement said a project announced last year by China’s Jiangxi Rare Earth and Rare Metals Tungsten Group Corp. to build a pilot nickel-cobalt ore processing plant at the Palawan site remains on track.

A feasibility study is under way and construction should proceed “in the shortest possible time” after the study is concluded and environmental clearances are secured, it added.

Automobile industry

Nissan Motor Philippines has cut its workforce by 15 percent and reduced its workweek from six to five days, because of the deepening global financial crisis, it was reported also on Thursday.

The Philippine unit of Japan’s Nissan Motor Co. has also restricted overseas trips for its executives, a Manila Standard Today newspaper reported, quoting Raymond Tribdino, Nissan’s local sales and marketing manager.

Tribdino said 50 of the 340-strong workforce had accepted a voluntary retirement package effective February 15.

Japan’s third-largest carmaker is expected to report a net loss of $2.9 billion for the fiscal year to March, its first loss in a decade.

The company announced recently that it was cutting 20,000 jobs, or 8.5 percent of its global workforce.

Shorter workweek

The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) also on Thursday recommended a cut in the number of workdays within the year to minimize job losses.

Henry Schumacher, the chamber’s executive vice president, explained that implementing a work schedule of 200 days in a year could be a viable solution to companies’ problems arising from the global economic slump.

The Philippines has about 270 working days within a year, excluding weekends.

Schumacher further suggested that, upon the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) approval, this 200-workday arrangement be further reduced should things go worse. “We do not want to lay off workers. We want to keep the people we trained. But we also want flexible hours in difficult times.”

The European chamber said its around 700 member-firms has a total of about 40,000 people in their labor force.

Schumacher added that many local industries have already been hit by the global financial crisis.

Last month, the Labor department had issued Department Advisory 2, the Guidelines on the Adoption of Flexible Work Arrangements. In it, the department noted that it would allow the implementation of shorter workweeks for six months, under the reduction of workdays scheme.

The Labor department added companies could implement broken time schedules, compressed workweeks, flexible-holidays schedules, forced leaves and rotation of workers.

The department also urged employers and employees to jointly come up with any schemes or agreements that would help curtail displacements among workers.

Plant trees for money

President Gloria Arroyo recently issued an order instructing all government agencies to set aside a portion of their operating expenses so that it could be used to employ people.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Wednesday that the

President mandated government agencies to save 1.5 percent of their maintenance and operating expenses “so that the amount put together could create employment.”

He added that based on the Labor department’s assessment, all the government agencies could put together around P7 billion from such savings that could be used to hire 180,000 contractual workers for six months.

“What is important is that there is an effort in the part of the government, in the order of President Arroyo, to muster enough resources to used use for paying contractual workers that would be hired as an immediate measure to solve the problem brought about by the current economic crisis,” Ermita said.

He added that they are glad about a new Moody’s assessment that the country would experience positive growth this year.

“We are happy about the acknowledgement that the Philippines will continue to have positive growth while some of our Asian neighbors are not,” he said admitting however that the government must continue to improve the country’s economic performance to lessen the burden of the people.

No budget bill yet

Meanwhile, the President added Thursday that the 2009 budget approved by Congress has not reached her desk for signature. Mrs. Arroyo made the statement when asked by the media if she would veto this year’s budget.

President Arroyo said previously that she expects her administration to operate in a new budget in six weeks. The President’s political adviser said the budget hasn’t reached the Palace because it is still being printed.
–AFP, Ben Arnold O. De Vera And Angelo S. Samonte

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