Philippines approves US$1b wage aid to 3.4m workers

FILE PHOTO: A long queue of motorists has formed as police officers attempt to check every individual's body temperature at a checkpoint placed amidst the lockdown of the country's capital to contain the spread of coronavirus, in the outskirts of Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo

MANILA: The Philippines will extend 51 billion pesos ($1 billion) in wage subsidy to 3.4 million workers in small businesses, adding to the costs of a lockdown that has shut the nation’s economic engine.

The government will prioritise 2.6 million whose employers have updated tax payments and pension fund contributions, Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua said in a late Monday briefing along with President Rodrigo Duterte. The subsidy will be as much as 8,000 pesos for every qualified person for two months, according to a separate statement.

Duterte had budgeted about 200 billion pesos in cash assistance to lower-income workers as the lockdown of Luzon island, home to half of the population and accounts for 70% of economic output, shut thousands of businesses, putting jobs at risk.

Neighbouring countries also struggle with prospects of unemployment, with Thailand estimating that as many as 10 million could lose their jobs in two to three months.

While restrictions in Luzon that started mid-March are scheduled to be in place until month-end, Duterte said Monday night that he could lift the quarantine in May if a form of an "antibody” cure against the novel coronavirus becomes available. He didn’t specify the treatment.

The number of reported infections in the Philippines climbed to 4,932 on Monday, the most in Southeast Asia, with deaths of 315. The coronavirus is "a wildcard” on people’s health, Duterte said.

Of the 1.6 million small businesses in the Philippines, 436,0000 were forced to close while one million establishments operated with a skeleton force, Chua said. Only about 117,000 businesses were allowed to operate to sell basic goods and services, Chua said.

The government is also studying a proposal to grant small businesses a credit guarantee to provide them easy access to bank financing. - Bloomberg

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