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Mandatory insurance, SSS loom for OFWs

15 November 2018

Consul General Antonio Morales opens the forum. With him are, from left: Pag-IBIG Fund representative Raymond Francis Ramos, SSS representative John Mata, Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre, Deputy Consul General Germinia Aguilar-Usudan, Consul Roderic Atienza, Vice Consul Fatima Quintin and Welfare Officers Marivic Clarin and Virsie Tamayao .

By Daisy CL Mandap

For the first time, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office has confirmed a government resolution mandating all Filipino migrant workers to be covered by insurance, but said there are no rules for implementing it yet.

“I have received a copy of Resolution No 3 of the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) but not the implementing rules and regulations,” said Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre at a Filipino community meeting held on Nov 11 at the Consulate.

Sought for further information after the forum, Labatt dela Torre said Philippine labor officials might still be mulling the resolution because of possible backlash.

The plan to require insurance (which currently costs US$44 per two-year contract for land-based workers), and forced contributions to the Social Security System of up to Php2,400 monthly, were the focus of the first community-wide forum called by Consul General Antonio Morales.
The forum is the biggest gathering of Filipino community leaders this year.

ConGen Morales asserted his adherence to a policy of consultation when he opened the meeting, held at the request of United Filipinos –Migrante Hong Kong, which has been protesting the planned government impositions.

Morales said that although the Consulate’s main task is to implement the law, they are also duty-bound to listen to the sentiments of Filipinos, especially migrant workers. Thus, he said “ipaparating naming ang mga hinaing ninyo.”

SSS representative John Mata said he had yet to receive information on when the proposed Social Security Act of 2018 would be implemented. The bill mandates a three-month initial contribution for those about to leave the Philippines, while those already on site are enjoined to pay monthly contributions, but it is not clear how this can be enforced.

The bill has already been passed by both houses of Congress with no known input from OFWs, and is just awaiting the signature of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Mata suggested those leading the protest against mandatory contributions could write to the SSS president to express their views. “May pagkakataon pang mag-dialogue,” he said.

But Unifil chairperson Dolores Balladares-Pelaez said the dialogue should have come when the bill was still being discussed in Congress, not now when it is almost as good as done.

Pelaez also dismissed suggestions employers could be made to pay for SSS and worker’s insurance in the Philippines. “So kung ayaw ng aming employer, baka kami mawalan ng trabaho,” she said.

She also said her group is not against paying for SSS, but there should be no compulsion, or sanction for those who do not, or cannot, pay for it. “Huwag naman kaming alisan ng karapatan na mamili,” she said.

ConGen Morales suggested that migrant workers who get to talk to Philippine lawmakers – senators as well as members of the House of Representatives – should take the chance to make their views known. “Sulatan ninyo sila at ipahatid ang inyong saloobin,” he urged.

Another topic discussed was the overseas employment certificate, which Labatt dela Torre noted wryly, was supposed to have been replaced by an OFW card called iDole more than a year ago.

While the OEC remains a requirement for those intending to go for a vacation in the Philippines, the OFW ID is reportedly about to be issued, after the task of getting it done was passed on to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Welfare officer Virsie Tamayao said the OFW ID had its “grand launch” only the other week, and migrant workers could already apply for it without paying anything. However, the card can only be claimed in the Philippines, so OFWs who want someone to get it for them should execute a special power of attorney naming the representative, which should then be notarized at the Consulate.

When forum participants protested at the high cost of getting a document notarized ($200 or Php1,400) Labatt dela Torre asked the OWWA officers if they could recommend a simpler and less costly way for OFWs to get their ID cards.

The wide-ranging topics taken up at the meeting included Unifil-Migrante’s call for better working conditions for all migrant workers in Hong Kong. These include stipulating in the work contract a continuous rest period of at least 11 hours, and providing a list of “unsuitable” accommodations.

Bayan HK and Macau chairman Eman Villanueva also said migrant workers should be paid a “living” wage, and not one that is decided upon arbitrarily by Hong Kong government officials.

The other issues raised included the perennial problem over loans and the use of passports to secure them; the longstanding cases of Emry’s and Peya Travel, in which hundreds of OFWs were victimized; the promised rebates for longtime OWWA members, and the offloading of minors traveling from the Philippines without either parent.

Consul Paul Saret, who heads the assistance to nationals section, confirmed the policy of requiring those who used passports as collateral for loans, to apply directly with the Department of Foreign Affairs if they want their document replaced.

Saret also said he and Labatt dela Torre would soon meet with Hong Kong police to discuss how to speed up the investigation into Emry’s and Peya.

Welfare officer Marivic Clarin said the OWWA rebates could be expected soon, while social welfare attaché Beth Dy said OFWs who want their children to visit them here should first check the requirements to prevent offloading.

All officers of the Consulate and its attached agencies were present at the meeting, including the new Deputy Consul General Germinia Aguilar-Usudan who promised to look more closely into the concerns of migrant workers.

“Bawat post ay unique, so hindi ko masasabi na alam ko na lahat ng mga hinaing ninyo,” she said. But she said migrant workers need more attention than others in the community because they are the “most vulnerable.”

The meeting ended with calls from Filcom leaders for regular consultations. Consulate officers said they’d consider the suggestion. 

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