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OFWs slam proposed law forcing them to pay for SSS

14 October 2018

By Daisy CL Mandap

Filipino migrant workers have reacted angrily to reports that the Philippine legislature has passed a bill forcing them to pay for membership to the Social Security System which starting next year, will cost them Php2,400 (HK$348) every month.

Under the proposed Social Security Act of 2018 passed on Oct 4, the mandatory SSS membership to be paid by all OFWs, both land-based and sea-based, will go up by 12% next year (from the current 11%), and will gradually increase, reaching 15% by 2025.

According to Migrante International, a support group for overseas Filipino workers worldwide, that would result to Php144 billion in earnings from the first year of  implementation alone.

The news came just a month after the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III as chairman, passed a resolution forcing all OFWs to pay for personal insurance each time they sign an employment contract.

Under the POEA resolution signed on Aug. 28, each OFW will have to pay continuously for mandatory insurance coverage, which currently costs US$144 per two-year coverage, or roughly HK$1,200.

Together, these new exactions will result to about HK$400 (or US$50) being deducted from the monthly earnings of OFWs.

Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chair of United Filipinos-Migrante Hong Kong, decried the new imposition as yet another form of extortion on Filipino migrant workers.

“Nakakagalit ang panibagong pangingikil na ito. Gatasang baka lang talaga tayo sa mata ng gobyerno, dapat mandatory para walang kawala,” she angrily said. “Parang tokhang na tuloy ito, papatayin ang mga OFWs sa dami ng mga bayarin. Bakit ayaw tantanan ang mga OFWs?”

She also asked why, again, no consultation was held with the OFWs, as they will be the ones to bear the financial burden from the attempt to shore up the Social Security System’s dwindling
reserves.

“Ang dapat gawin ng SSS ay habulin at tiyakin na magbayad ng premium (pareho) ang mga employers at employees, alisin ang korupsyon, at (ang) pagbibigay ng milyong milyong bonuses sa mga board of trustees nito,” said Pelaez.

As with POEA Resolution No 4 (2018), no copy of the actual SS Act of 2018 appears to have been circulated publicly, although the SSS posted a press release on Oct 9, hailing its approval by both houses of Congress.

Migrante International also circulated a press release objecting to the SSS forced contribution, saying the Duterte government will be amassing hundreds of billions of pesos at the expense of OFWs already burdened by numerous state exactions.

“Forcing all OFWs to be covered as compulsory SSS members is outrageous since this exaction will be on top of the US$144 mandatory insurance recently enacted under the Duterte regime through POEA,” said Migrante International spokesperson Arman Hernando.

Like the POEA Resolution, the SS Act provides that employers must pay for the new contribution, but no definite mechanism is set to ensure that this requirement is followed.

“In case host countries refuse to get the compliance of foreign employers on this SSS scheme, OFWs themselves will be forced to fully pay for the entire monthly contribution rate. That is painful considering that many OFWs are enslaved through unpaid work besides suffering from other contract violations,” Hernando said.

Despite Migrante’s strong opposition, some OFWs in Hong Kong appear to be not as perturbed by the looming fee collections.

One of them is Terry Ann Acupido Jimenez from Roxas, Isabela who has been working in Hong Kong for the past five years. She said in a random interview: “Mas ok ate, para hindi luhaan ang mga OFW pag umuwi. Kung matanda ka ng umuwi, kapag wala nang tutulong sa iyong pamilya dahil wala ka ng perang maibigay sa kanila, may SSS na sasalo sa iyo. I strongly agree kasi ako mismo wala akong insurance, panay pamilya ang lagi kong iniisip.”

But MT from Nueva Vizcaya, who has been an OFW for the past 10 years, disagrees. “Una sa lahat, paano maa-avail ng mga contributors ang benefits lalo na sa hospitalization at maternity kung sa ibang bansa sila magpagamot? Pangalawa, paano mag aadjust ang karamihan ng mga OFW kung kulang pa ang kanilang budget sa pinapadala nila sa Pilipinas?”

She also suggested that OFWs must be told exactly what to expect from the proposed legislation before it becomes law.

Pelaez says she agrees that paying for SSS membership or insurance coverage is bad per se, but OFWs, many of whom are already on a tight budget, must not be forced to pay for them.

“Sa totoo lang dito sa HK, marami na ang nag member sa SSS dahil tingin nila ok ito, kaya hindi solusyon na gawing mandatory ang problema sa nauubos na pera ng SSS, she said.

But she added Unifil-Migrante will continue to oppose any new exactions on OFWs as they already bear the brunt of spiraling prices of basic commodities back home, and most had to pay through their nose just to land a job abroad.

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