THE GOVERNMENT should consider subsidizing the 13th month salary payments of micro and small enterprises (MSEs) worth about P3.5 billion using standby funds, according to the country’s Labor chief.

“If we can find standby funds or savings, we might be able to subsidize micro and small business enterprises,” Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III told an online news briefing in Filipino on Tuesday.

The agency would submit its recommendations to President Rodrigo R. Duterte, he said.

About P13 billion is needed to subsidize the 13th month payments of all companies to 5.7 million workers, Mr. Bello said, citing the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Mr. Bello said the subsidies are on top of the Trade department’s P10-billion fund for micro and small businesses affected by a coronavirus pandemic.

The agency was studying a plan to allow companies to defer the payments after some of them were forced to shut down or operate at reduced capacity after the country was placed under different levels of lockdowns.

Last week, however, it ordered companies not to defer 13th month payments, which are mandated by law. Mr. Bello said the Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines was offering loans at low interest to small businesses so they can afford the salaries.

Companies must have been operating for more than a year to qualify for the loans, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez told reporters on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, congressmen urged the private sector to pay the 13th month salary and Christmas bonus of their workers before the deadline.

“If they do that, they would also be following the example of the government, the country’s biggest employer, which releases the 14th month pay of its more than one million personnel on Nov. 15,” Quezon City Rep. Precious H. Castelo said in a statement.

“It will surely ease the financial burden employees and our people have to face everyday because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.

The lawmaker said workers could avoid borrowing money if they get their year-end bonuses ahead of schedule.

The law mandates employers to pay the 13th month salary by Dec. 24. — Gillian M. Cortez and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza