NEDA chief: Why not try four-day workweek again?
MANILA, Philippines — The country’s chief economist has called for a shorter workweek, starting with government employees, to save on expensive gas.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua told President Duterte late Tuesday night that amid skyrocketing global oil prices fueled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one way to conserve energy was by shifting to a four-day workweek.
“Each Filipino will still work 40 hours per week. But instead of five days, it will be four; instead of eight hours a day, it will be 10 hours a day,” Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), told President Rodrigo Duterte.
Chua said the country did this in 1990 during the Gulf War and in 2008 when oil prices spiked and the effect was that it generated savings since government workers drove or rode public transport four times a week instead of five.
“I also recommend the private sector to do so,” Chua said, repeating his appeal to members of the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines during a meeting on Wednesday afternoon.
Under the lowest Alert Level 1 restrictions currently covering Metro Manila and many other areas, government offices have already returned to 100-percent or full capacity.
The NEDA chief said existing rules of the Civil Service Commission already allowed alternative work arrangements.
Chua said individual agencies could already implement four-day workweeks, but implementing it in all government agencies might need a presidential order or memorandum.
Cash aid for workers
The Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) also proposed to Malacañang to give a cash aid of P5,000 a month for three months to at least a million minimum wage earners.
While the proposed cash assistance would amount to P15 billion, the Dole asked the Office of the President to provide an additional P24-billion budget for the program.
“This is the intervention we thought of for one million minimum wage earners,” Labor Undersecretary for Labor Relations Benjo Benavidez said in a press briefing on Wednesday.
“We came up with this because the value of P537 (daily minimum wage in Metro Manila) back in 2018 has gone down in 2022. We’re praying that hopefully this time we’ll get an approval because our minimum wage earners really need this,” he added.
Benavidez said the proposal was presented to the Office of the President on Tuesday.
The labor department also asked Malacañang to fill the vacant sectoral representative seats in the regional wage boards and the National Wages Productivity Commission.
Fuel subsidy distribution
“If there’s no quorum, (wage hike) petitions cannot be immediately acted on. Our RTWPBs are working but we need to fill up the vacant positions in the boards,” Benavidez said.
Meanwhile, President Duterte will lead the ceremonial distribution of the fuel subsidy to corn farmers and fisherfolk in Tacloban, Leyte, today (Thursday) as the government starts handing out gasoline and diesel discount cards as part of the P500-million assistance from the Department of Agriculture (DA).
“Starting tomorrow, I will be in Tacloban, and with the president. [We] will roll out the fuel subsidy for fishers and corn farmers,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said during the Laging Handa public briefing on Wednesday.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary Arnel de Mesa said in a text message that the fuel discount cards would be rolled out to corn farmers and fishers in Zambales on March 21 and the distribution would continue in different parts of the country until the government has released the entire P500 million for the first tranche of the subsidy to agricultural workers.
The second tranche amounting to P600 million is expected in April, which De Mesa said would be given to a new set of beneficiaries.
The DA earlier said about 158,730 corn farmers and fishers would benefit from the fuel subsidy of P3,000 each.
Dar said that small rice farmers were excluded from the fuel subsidy program as they would be getting cash aid worth P5,000 each under the Rice Farmer Financial Assistance beginning in the first week of April.
—WITH A REPORT FROM JORDEENE B. LAGARE
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