Friday, January 31, 2014

DOLE readies implementation of welfare program for Bicol farmers (with photo)
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Jan. 31 (PNA) – Coconut farmers in Bicol are target of preparations being conducted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for the implementation of its Social Amelioration and Welfare Program (SAWP) for workers in the biofuel industry.

The preparations include the conduct here of the recently concluded seminar-workshop on the new guidelines of the program participated in by 20 provincial directors of government agencies directly linked with the industry and farmers in the region.

These agencies are the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

It was the first in a series of orientations on these new guidelines which, when completed will be followed by the conduct of advocacy activities involving coconut farmers in the region, DOLE Bicol regional director Nathaniel Lacambra based here said on Thursday.

Not all of the 293,000 Bicolano farmers tending a total of 447,743 hectares of coconut farms in Bicol are eligible to SAWP coverage, However, it is very clear in the guidelines that only those that are involved in the production of biofuel are covered, Lacambra explained.

The new SAWP guidelines state that biofuel producers should allot a certain portion of the sales to serve as lien to be placed in a social amelioration fund which can be accessed by the farmers for various benefits like social protection, livelihood, educational, health and safety and emergency assistance, among others.

This lien worth P0.05 per liter of coco biodiesel produced and sold being collected by the DOLE regional office since 2012, shall be used to primarily augment the income and finance the social and economic programs to improve the livelihood and well-being of the workers directly involved in feedstock and processing of products into biodiesel, he said.

The SAWP lien, Lacambra said, shall be borne by all biodiesel producers for the benefit of the workers, specifically of distillery plants --except managerial employees, coconut oil mills that provide feedstock and coconut farmers and farm workers who are engaged in feedstock for biofuel production.

The same guidelines also push for a profit-sharing scheme among farmers and biodiesel producers.

These guidelines, according to Lacambra, are based on provisions of Republic Act 9367, otherwise known as the Biodiesels Act of 2006, which provides, among others, that DOLE “shall promote gainful livelihood opportunities and facilitate productive employment services and regulations to ensure the access of workers to productive resources and social protection coverage.”

The same law also states that “per authority granted under Joint Administrative Order No. 2008 series of 2008, the DOLE shall be the implementing agency for the development and management of the SAWP for biodiesel workers.”

“This is a very noble program that gives DOLE a great task of communicating its new guidelines to our farmers who are the beneficiaries.” Lacambra said.

Apart from this task, the DOLE regional office is also mandated to conduct advocacy and information dissemination on relevant policies and projects on the SAWP; enforce compliance of all local biodiesel producers on the collection and remittance of the lien; provide technical assistance to program stakeholders; and monitor and evaluate the status of projects implemented, he said.

To ensure that the new guidelines are understood by farmers, DOLE-Bicol has scheduled a series of orientations, first for Albay coconut farmers engaged in biodiesel feedstock production.

“We have identified 400 farmers in the province who qualified for the SAWP coverage and we are reaching out to them so that they become fully oriented on the benefits that the program has in store for them,” Lacambra said.

These benefits, he said, include packages of direct services to establish or improve and expand workers’ existing livelihood assets and transform these into sustainable community enterprises that can provide employment and stable income for their families.

Other benefits are training and vocational education assistance for the workers to enhance their employability in farm and non-farm enterprises; organizational and community development, financial literacy, network building and other capacity building assistance to promote entrepreneurship and improve self-employment.

Biofuel workers are also entitled under SAWP to social protection and welfare benefits that include package of services that will promote work improvement, productivity, health and safety and a one-time cash assistance equivalent to one-month contribution to Social Security system and PhilHealth, respectively.

Emergency assistance against unexpected or catastrophic events such as earthquake, typhoon, landslides, flooding, prolonged drought and other emergencies shall also be provided to the workers under SAWP.

This covers provision of food relief and cash assistance, emergency employment program and other services to eligible workers.

Likewise, emergency assistance may also be provided in the event of economic displacement due to mergers, closures or retrenchments for the purpose of providing start-up capital for self-employment and enterprise development. (PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/CBD/