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Easing of rice imports to cut 20% of NFA staff

The National Food Authority’s (NFA) restructuring plan has already been endorsed to the national government despite reservations from other members of the agency’s policy-making body just two days before the deadline set by the law.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who also leads the NFA Council, told reporters that proposals for the agency’s restructuring has already been finalized, which will see the downsizing of the agency and the displacement of some of its employees.

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The official said representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Economic and Development Authority expressed reservations about the proposal.

But given the time constraints, it seemed that the council pushed through with the submission of the agency’s restructuring plan.

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“There will be a reduction of 839 employees, mainly regulatory and employment. Others opted to retire,” Piñol said. “It will be a contentious issue and there may be cases that will be filed, [but] it is not for the council to decide.”

The number represents about 20 percent of the NFA’s workforce nationwide of 4,136 but NFA employees association (NFAEA) president Max Torda said the number could rise further.

Piñol admitted that there have been suggestions to further trim down the number of positions that would be removed, but added that the council would wait for the result of an independent study on the issue, which is expected to be finished by December this year.

A source privy to the matter added that the policy-making body was also looking to dissolve 41 of its 86 regional offices and consolidate operations to 45 areas.

While warehouses would be maintained, the management is expected to cut regional personnel based on the province’s historical performance, location and whether or not it is situated in a rice-producing area.

Piñol noted that there would be three provinces under one manager.

Torda said in a phone interview that their group was looking to file a case against the government at the Supreme Court to question the constitutionality of certain provisions of the rice import liberalization law, which led to the restructuring of the grains agency.

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The workers’ security of tenure, he added, would be “a collateral issue.”

Two kinds of compensation packages were presented to the Council and still subject to President Duterte’s approval. Funding for the separation benefits would mostly come from NFA’s corporate funds, but would be aided by the national government.

NFA employees said officials from the Bureau of the Treasury were already going to regional offices to create an inventory of the agency’s assets.

Workers who talked to the Inquirer said they were asking the agency’s management to be more transparent with the restructuring plan so that they could plan ahead once the downsizing takes place.

The workers association leader said the environment in NFA offices have been stressful given the probability of a mass layoff.

“No notices have been issued to employees who may be displaced. We feel that the management has not been completely transparent to us,” he said.

Under the new rice law, the NFA will be limited to procuring local palay and maintaining the country’s buffer stock, thereby stripping it of its power to regulate, license, market and monitor activities related to the staple.

Members of the NFAEA had been fearing a gradual phaseout starting with the removal of employees related to the agency’s regulatory and enforcement functions, while workers whose tasks are related to imports are seen to be terminated once the agency’s imports are depleted some time in August.

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TAGS: Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, National Food Authority’s (NFA), rice imports
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