THE INTERNATIONAL Labor Organization (ILO) and Japan have launched a $2.2-million project to support Philippine small business with their digitalization and health and safety efforts.

The year-long project, funded by the Japanese government was developed to help reopen micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) safely after the effects of COVID-19 on business.

The project will target businesses in the provinces and non-metropolitan regions, where ILO said pandemic risks remain high while support is limited.

The project, known as Bringing back jobs safely under the COVID-19 crisis in the Philippines: Rebooting small and informal businesses safely and digitally, aims to deploy occupational safety and health (OSH) training to MSMEs to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Hideki Kagohashi, ILO Philippines enterprise development specialist, said the program will also assist MSME digitalization through training programs, including digital financial education.

“We believe that MSME digitalization will help decongest Metro Manila, and those who still have to remain operational within Metro Manila will also reduce physical contact thanks to the digitalization of the operations,” he said at the virtual launch Thursday.

The program will also support the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s (DICT) internet connectivity project with pilot use of its innovation hubs and satellite network.

“We will support the first few innovation hubs to be established and more importantly, we’ll help them get connected to these local satellites such as the internet cafes, the co-working spaces or the public sector libraries and local government offices converted into co-working spaces,” Mr. Kagohashi said.

To support occupational health, the project will also build a knowledge management system that will support local health safety expertise and risk identification. The system will combine epidemiological and health safety inspection databases.

“Our aim is to gain new evidence on inspection and prevention, leading to sector or occupation-wise risks (identification), which will in turn help sectoral OSH guidelines (be) constantly updated,” Mr. Kagohashi said.

Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Kazuhiko Koshikawa said that the support measures will also help informal businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic.

“It is about time that we step up to the plate and help reach out to these ailing businesses. We have proven that crucial to economic recovery are micro, small, and medium enterprises, where about seven out of every 10 workers in this country are employed,” he said.

Implementation started last month and will end in June 2022.

The project will be rolled out in collaboration with the DICT, Department of Labor and Employment, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Anti-Poverty Commission, and Philippine employers and workers organizations. — Jenina P. Ibañez