Gov't urged to assist MSMEs to avoid 'no 13th month pay' scenario

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 9) — Government agencies should extend more aid to pandemic-hit micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) so that they can still give the mandatory 13th month benefit to workers, labor groups urged on Friday.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno said the government should take a more proactive role in providing relief to workers, instead of causing more anxiety by floating a "no 13th month pay" scenario.

"It is the government’s responsibility to bail out MSMEs in times of emergencies. Deferments and exemptions are not a good tune to sing amid this pandemic," KMU Chairperson Elmer "Ka Bong" Labog said. "Why make the workers suffer by letting them be submerged in debts here and there?"

Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Thursday said the Department of Labor and Employment is looking at allowing MSMEs severely hit by the COVID-19 crisis to apply for non-payment of the 13th month pay to their workers, saying they will release guidelines on what constitutes a "distressed" employer. He added that deferment of the payment of benefits is also an option.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines said delayed payment of the Christmas bonus should be off the table since it will eventually be a burden to a company trying to stay afloat amid the economic crisis.

ECOP President Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. said concerned government agencies should consider lending money to MSMEs, which can be paid back on an installment basis, noting that most of these businesses have yet to receive financial aid from the government's Bayanihan law.

"If a government agency can advance the money, maybe that can be a better arrangement and then they can just pay it to whichever agency in a staggered basis," he told CNN Philipines on Friday.

Defend Jobs Philippines also made the same appeal and even launched an online dance challenge on the TikTok app so workers can share their requests for their 13th month pay.

"Mahaba na nga 'yung panahon ng pandemya na walang kinikita 'yung mga manggagawa tapos 'yung 13th month pay na inaasahan nila na pwedeng panggastos sa kapaskuhan, ipagkakait pa natin?" Defend Jobs Philippines spokesperson Christian Lloyd Magsoy told CNN Philippines' The Final Word.

[Translation: The pandemic where workers suffered losses has already been long, now we are even depriving them of the 13th month pay that can be possibly used for Christmas season expenses?]

ECOP estimated that around 45 percent of MSMEs in the country have closed down due to the pandemic. 

The 13th month pay is a mandatory benefit provided to all rank-and-file employees under Presidential Decree 851. It should be paid not later than Dec. 24.