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British Airways pilots back job loss deal

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British Airways employs 4,300 pilots. (AFP)

British Airways pilots have overwhelmingly voted to accept a deal cutting wages by 20 percent with 270 jobs lost, according to aviation union BALPA.

The deal, announced Friday, comes as the airline struggles with the economic impact of the coronavirus which has seen it propose lay-offs of 12,000 staff, more than 1,200 of those pilots.

Salaries will initially be reduced by 20 percent, then by eight percent over two years, after which there will be no more wage cuts, said BALPA.

It also prevents, said the union, an unpopular “fire and rehire” scheme where staff would have been handed new contracts on different conditions and which had led to strike threats.

“Our members have made a pragmatic decision in the circumstances but the fact that we were unable to persuade BA to avoid all compulsory redundancies is bitterly disappointing,” said BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton.

British Airways employs 4,300 pilots.

The deal was backed by 85 percent of pilots, said BALPA, and the turnout was 87 percent.

Earlier this week, BA criticized the British government for placing quarantine rules on all travelers returning from Spain, claiming it would have an “impact on an already troubled aviation industry”.

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PCCI urges IATF to allow more jeepneys to operate

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THE Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries (PCCI), tapped by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to be its consultant with regards to COVID 19 pandemic response, has suggested opening more routes for jeepneys to aide more employees that are going to their workplaces during this general community quarantine (GCQ).

In a virtual media conference for the launch of the 46th Philippine Business Conference and Expo, slated to happen on 7-8 October this year, PCCI President, Ambassador Benedicto V. Yujuico urged the IATF to allow more jeeps to operate and open more routes to drivers and operators.

“The IATF should allow jeepneys to ply routes from secondary roads so our people can be brought to the main arteries like EDSA so that they can take buses. That will also help the jeepney drivers who, for more than 6 months without income,” according to Yujuico.

Yujuico added that besides jeepneys, their group is also asking the IATF to consider increasing the percentage capacity of buses to allow more workers to report to their respective workplaces.

A total number of 64,512 public utility jeepneys (PUJs) plying Metro routes are allowed to operate by the IATF as of June, with 50 percent passenger capacity, to augment for the gradual reopening of the economy amid COVID 19 pandemic.

“The IATF should consider the business aspect and the economic recovery and part of the economic recovery is we must allow employees to report to their workplaces for businesses to make money, otherwise they are going to close down. Baka pwede in accordance with what they think what’s right,” according to Yujuico.

He said the PCCI was allowed by the IATF to be observers of what the IATF is doing, and perhaps “little backdoor channeling in terms of some of their suggestions.”

Last August, the PCCI in a resolution, asked the IATF to include private sectors to its pandemic related decisions, as they will be able to use their on-the-ground experience to come up with a holistic approach that will make businesses easier to resume operation and for workers to return to work.

Yujuico maintained that they hope the government would recognize the vital role of businesses in creating jobs and providing income, as well as the need to address the issue of livelihood and poverty to avoid social unrest.

Subsequently, Malacañang had welcomed the group’s inclusion as resource persons and their inclusion, but only on matters related to trade, business, the economy, and policy discussions with regards to the country’s coronavirus response.

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Shell sells 45% stake in Malampaya

Maria Romero

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The Department of Energy (DoE) on Wednesday confirmed that the Philippine upstream subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell is selling its 45-percent stake in the Malampaya deep water gas-to-power facility.
 
In an interview Wednesday, Energy Chief Alfonso G. Cusi told the Daily Tribune that they have only been notified of the plan last Tuesday. 
 
Cusi said the sale is part of Shell’s plan to rationalize its assets. 
 
However, Cusi assured that the planned sale will not affect the operations of Malampaya and that supply will remain intact. 
 
It can be recalled that Shell’s former partner, American energy giant Chevron Corporation, also sold its 45-percent interest in the gas field to Udenna Corporation led by Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy with a DoE-floated price of $565 million.
 
Despite the buyout, Shell remained as the operator of Malampaya.
 
Pilipinas Shell communications manager Cesar Abaricia previously told reporters that the transfer of ownership will not have any material impact on the operations of the gas-to-power facility since expertise is still with Shell.
 
With Shell selling it’s stake, the Malampaya power plant may be operated by another firm. The Daily Tribune sought comment from Shell about the issue but to no avail. 
 
The Malampaya gas-to-power facility fuels three gas-fired power plants with a total generating capacity of 2,700 megawatts (MW). It provides up to 30 percent of the power generation needs of Luzon.
 
Connected to onshore gas plants in Batangas, the Malampaya offshore facility in Northern Palawan was inaugurated in 2001.
 
Estimates showed that Malampaya gas field reserves are sufficient until 2022 to 2024.
 
However, the DoE recently pointed out that the exhaustion of the Malampaya gas field would lead to massive brownouts in Luzon. 
 
To address energy insecurity, the Philippine Petroleum Association of the Upstream (Oil and Gas) Industry (PAP) was mandated to working closely with the government agencies to revitalize oil and gas explorations. 
 
The DoE noted that the Philippines is still underexplored that even in Palawan — where oil and gas fields are also located — new prospects have already been delineated for drilling and exploration.
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DTI sees close to 5.1 percent unemployment rate by end 2020

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The Department of Trade and Industry is seeing close to 5.1 percent unemployment rate by the end of 2020, as the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) is into reopening the economy safely.

“We’re seeing our unemployment rate going down from the worst rate of 17.7 percent last April to 10 percent in July. We hope to get back closer to our pre-pandemic 5.1%-level before yearend,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said in his report to the members of Franchise Asia Philippines (FAP) Monday.

Lopez said that in the 3-run surveys in three periods done by the department to over 2,000 MSMEs nationwide, it showed that 38 percent of companies were closed and about 50 percent partially operating during the height of the ECQ last April-May.

“This went down to 11 percent (from 38 percent) in June-July, and to 6 percent in August-September as we were reopening the economy,” according to Lopez.

He also noted that the country’s manufacturing climbed back closer to the benchmark 50 index, up to 49.7 in June, from its record-low of 31.6 in April.

“The Philippines has always been posting 50 indexes. Above 50 suggests an increase in manufacturing activities and below 50 suggests a contraction—so we are about to surpass the 50 indexes. This reflected a recovery in our manufacturing indices as we eased down the community quarantine in several regions across the country. Furthermore, our Output Index has been climbing from 10.2 last April to 51.1 last June,” said Lopez.

The DTI chief also relayed that exports that declined by 49% in April, has now recovered to just -9 percent in July this year.

“We are hoping to recover to positive growth territory by yearend, in the same way, that they have been posting positive growth rates in 2019, as well as in January and February before the lockdown this year. We are one of the few countries that have been posting positive growth last year and early this year prior to the pandemic

Lopez also hopes that the reported recovery momentum will lead our country towards full recovery by early next year.

“Remember that we were the second-fastest growing economy in the region before the pandemic, ranging consistently at 6-7.5% GDP growth, low unemployment rate, lower poverty rate, Investment grade and ranking high, Top 6 on financial and fiscal stability among many countries. We were already there before, and we can be back at those growth planes again,” according to Lopez.

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Meralco settles P19-M fine over ‘bill shocks’

Maria Romero

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The Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the country’s biggest distribution utility, on Monday said it has paid the P19-million fine imposed by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for allegedly violating billing advisories during the coronavirus lockdown period, which resulted in “bill shocks.”
 
Meralco said it has settled the amount a month after the ERC imposed the penalties. However, the electricity retailer wanted the regulator to reconsider the second component of the fine.
 
“Meralco filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration (concerning) the directive to provide a retail rate discount to lifeline customers,” Meralco told the local bourse. The company was referring to the discounted rate given to low-income households that cannot afford to pay at full cost. 
 
The ERC previously directed Meralco to set the charges to zero for a month for some two million “lifeline” or low-income customers who use less than 100-kilowatt hours, to provide them relief amid the health and economic crisis.
 
The discount to be provided to all lifeline consumers was estimated to be around P200 million, which should not be charged to the non-lifeline consumers.
 
Meralco earlier announced it would voluntarily provide a power rate discount totaling P101 million as a relief to 2.77 million lifeline customers to mitigate the impact of the health crisis.
 
To recall, the ERC pointed out that Meralco failed to inform consumers that their electricity bills were “estimated” during the strict quarantine period, or when restrictions prevented Meralco representatives from reading household meters.
 
According to ERC chief Agnes Devanadera, Meralco also violated the installment payment scheme mandated by the commission, adding that the firm’s neglect “created chaos and confusion” among the public.
 
The backlash from customers over allegedly high power rates during the quarantine period has prompted the ERC, the Department of Energy, and lawmakers to conduct separate probes.
 
Meralco has since apologized for the bill shock and assured lawmakers that customers were only charged for the actual electricity they consumed.
 

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Revocation of GSP+ to aggravate situation of low-income sectors

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The European Chamber of Commerce (ECC) has aired its concern over the European Union Parliament’s threat to revoke the Philippines export tariff incentives, as it will aggravate the situation of low-income sectors, its members, and the country’s economic situation.

In an interview, ECC President Nabil Francis emphasized that his group strongly calls for the retention of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) grant in the Philippines, threatened to be withdrawn by the European Parliament in a resolution last 17 September mainly because of the deteriorating human rights violations happening in the Philippines.

“The EU is among the largest trading partners of the Philippines. The year after qualifying for the GSP+, Filipino exports to the EU expanded by 27 percent according to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The removal of the GSP+ will put at risk thousands of jobs generated in both the agriculture and manufacturing sectors,” according to Mr. Nabil, who governs more than 200 predominantly European businesses venturing in the country for years.

The ECC reiterated that the EU’s mull revocation of the country’s tariff benefits in the midst of a pandemic will also exacerbate the economic situation of the country.

“The International Trade Centre has estimated that the total export and import loss of the Philippines from its EU trading partners could reach $300 million and $175 million, respectively, due to COVID-19 supply chain disruptions,” Francis told the Daily Tribune.

The ECC in its July survey said 91.8 percent of its members have significantly been affected by the pandemic, and cancellation of the GSP+ rating will add another burden to its members.

“The Chamber’s membership roster widely varies in terms of industry and company size. A considerable number of them are GSP+ beneficiaries. Among the top Philippine exports under the EU GSP+ to the EU are agricultural oil products, electrical machinery, processed meat & fish, optical products, processed vegetables, and fruits and nuts,” Francis emphasized.

He added that the revocation of the GSP+ in the midst of a pandemic will surely aggravate the situation of low-income sectors, and the country by and large.

“Furthermore, current investor confidence among the European-Philippine business community remains dampened due to the uncertain business landscape in the country as revealed in a recent study conducted by the ECCP,” according to Francis.

On its 17 September decision, the EU legislative assembly ruled “given the seriousness of the human rights violations in the country, calls on the European Commission, in the absence of any substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities, to immediately initiate the procedure which could lead to the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ preferences.”

The GSP+ status of the Philippines covers 6,274 locally-made products, including those manufactured by the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Last Friday, 18 September, Malacanang, through Spokesman Harry Roque, berated EU’s Parliament move and even provoked the EU to go on with its economic sanctions, even as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic which plunged the economy into a recession, the worst in three decades.

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Labor group to Palace: Resolve issues with EU parliament

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Following Malacañang’s provocation to the European Union’s Parliament to revoke tariff privileges given to Philippine products, a labor group on Saturday urged the government to properly resolve the mess without stirring the hornet’s nest to avoid further job losses to Filipinos.

In a statement, workers group Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) called on the Philippine government to address the resolution of the European Union Parliament that calls for a review of the tariff incentives extended to the country’s export products in the light of the allegations on abuses on human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance.

“We urge the government to take the right action and take more steps in addressing the issues raised by the resolution. We have workers and their families behind every products being sold in the EU market, if the Philippine government fails to make the right response to the resolution we will lose the market which result to more unemployment and to loss of business opportunities, ” said Gerard R. Seno, ALU National Executive Vice President.

It can be recalled that in a news briefing Friday, a fuming Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque dared the EU to go on with its economic sanctions, even as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic which plunged the economy into a recession which was the worst in three decades.

“If they want to add to the burden of the Filipino nation during this pandemic, so be it. We will accept that as history repeating itself. Let’s stop these discussions,” Roque said.

The labor group vice president maintained that the Philippines has been enjoying since 25 December 2014 a zero tariff on 6,274 products to the EU market to help the country develop, provided it improves its compliance to human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance standards.

Seno revealed some of these products which enjoy no tariff includes pineapples, mangoes, tuna, vegetables, nuts, coffee, cacao and garments, footwear, pearls, precious metals and selected furniture.

The group noted that based on the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) records, in 2014, the then granting of GSP+ tariff-free export increase Philippine exports to the EU by 35 percent and created 200,000 more jobs.

“If the revocation of the GSP+ privilege is completed, we will lose these jobs,” the group stated.

For his part, ALU TUCP spokesman Alan Tanjusay said the government should not be proud, but instead ponder on what should be done to address the problem.

“Sana wag na maging proud. Tingnan kung ano pa ang pagkukulang natin at gawin ang tamang response to satisfy or meet the requirements of the EU GSP+,” Tanjusay told the Daily Tribune.

Asked for his comment regarding the Palace’ statement, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said he will not comment anymore since he already issued statement regarding the matter.

“So far, we are able to explain objectively the Philippines side on issues that are raised and we dont see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn. It is precisely helping address poverty and attendant social and economic issues, and helping MSMEs in many parts of the country, by allowing greater EU market access for Philippine products,” Lopez told reporters, Friday.

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Regulations on virtual-only banks needed amid contactless era

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VIRTUAL or online banks do not incur costs to open and operate a network of branches. (PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SOVEREIGN GROUP)

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas fully supports the bill that seeks to establish a separate regulatory authority for virtual-only banks.

Governor Benjamin Diokno said the central bank welcomes House Bill (HB) 5913, or the Virtual Banking Act, as “the creation of a regulatory framework for digital banks promotes a level playing field by allowing new entrants to credibly compete with existing banks, as well as prevents regulatory arbitrage.”

“This will reinforce the provisions of the General Banking Law with respect to the proposal of the BSP which introduces digital banks as a new bank classification, distinct from the existing categories of banks, i.e., universal and commercial banks (U/KBs), thrift banks (TBs), rural banks (RBs), cooperative banks, and Islamic banks,” Diokno stated in a letter to the House of Representatives and bill author Albay Representative Joey Salceda.

Under the proposal, which also gained the support of the Cebu Bankers Club, virtual-only banks will be a separate classification of banks and will be encouraged to pursue financial inclusion initiatives.

HB 5913 also outlines the minimum macro-prudential standards for virtual-only banks, and opens the virtual banking sector to some degree of foreign ownership. It is expected to attract some of the financial technology know-hows of other countries and ensure adequate capital.

The bill may also incorporate measures to further develop financial technology to help modernize payment systems in the country.

The BSP assured regulatory “sandboxes” are in place to help financial technology companies thrive.

Regulatory sandboxing is a practice of piloting a new sector or technology within a limited scope to protect the wider economy from the risks of the novel sector.

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Swedish retailer H&M bounces back into profit

Agence France-Presse

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Swedish clothing giant Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) bounced back into profit last quarter despite many of its stores remaining closed due to coronavirus restrictions, sending its share price surging Tuesday.

H&M had tumbled into a loss in its March-May quarter when, like many other non-essential retailers, lockdowns forced it to close shops.

And while sales for the June-August quarter were still down 19 percent from last year to 50.9 billion Swedish kronor (4.9 billion euros, $5.8 billion), a move towards higher value collections, less discounting, and cost-cutting helped it turn a profit, the company said in a preliminary earnings statement.

The preliminary pre-tax profit of approximately 2.0 billion kronor was much more than the 250 million expected by analysts, sending H&M shares climbing by more than 10 percent in morning trading in Stockholm.

The group is to publish its complete third quarter results on October 1.

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UK unemployment climbs to 4.1% on virus fallout

Agence France-Presse

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Britain’s unemployment rate jumped above four percent in July on economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed on Tuesday.

The rate grew to 4.1 percent in the three months to the end of July from 3.9 percent the previous quarter, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement.

The number of people claiming jobless benefits stood at 2.7 million in August, up almost 121 percent since March when Britain went into lockdown over the virus.

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