Moratorium on SSS, Philhealth
premium hikes sought
Text and photos by Jay Luna
Various overseas Filipino workers (OFW) groups called on the government to consider a moratorium on increasing the premiums collected by the Social Security System (SSS) and PhilHealth, saying that the added burden on OFWs could push them to work in foreign countries undocumented.
In a joint press conference held in Manila on Monday, June 17, 2019, representatives from land-based and sea-based OFW groups aired their concerns and sentiments, seeking for the Duterte administration to reconsider the increase in all premiums to be collected from Filipino migrant workers.
Former Labor undersecretary Susan Ople, who heads the Blas F. Ople Policy Center – a non-government organization that specializes in labor migration, said that both the executive and legislative branches of government should take it slow in imposing mandatory contributions for all OFWs.
“The outlook for our overseas workers is not as brightest, with tensions rising throughout the Middle East and the ongoing protests in Hong Kong over a hotly-contested legislation, among other challenges. Any imposition of additional financial burdens would push our workers away from existing legal deployment channels and make them less competitive against their rivals,” Ople said.
The Ople Center, together with the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (PASEI) and the Joint Manning Group, representing the land-based and sea-based sectors, respectively, as well as other NGOs KAMPI and KAKAMMPI are one in urging the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to reject the provision in the published Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the SSS that would tie up OFW collections with the issuance of an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC).
Under the said IRR, returning OFWs including those coming home for emergency and/or vacation leaves shall pay three-month contribution to the SSS. The regulation is effective within this week. This would entail a payment of 2,880 pesos per vacationing OFW based on the minimum rate of contributions. The amount will be higher for skilled and professional workers including seafarers.
The OFW groups added that in addition to the SSS premiums increase, they would also need to shell our more money to pay PhilHealth from the current fixed rate of P2,400 per annum to a salary-based P6,864 by September of this year.
Under the draft IRR as presented by PhilHealth officials to the OFW groups, the minimum contributions of every overseas domestic worker will spike up to P12,480 per year in 2024 or five years from now.
Meanwhile, the Joint Manning Group filed on Monday, June 17, a Petition for Certiorari before the Supreme Court (SC) to question the constitutionality of Republic Act 11199, the Social Security Act of 2018. The Petitioners particularly questioned the new legislation’s “unfair and arbitrary” treatment given to the sea-based manning industry.
The Joint Manning Group clarified that they do not oppose compulsory SSS coverage for seafarers saying that seafarers deserve all the protection the government could provide. But they condemn the new SSS law’s harsh and irrational provisions imposed on the manning agencies. They added that the new law should be treated as unconstitutional because it taints the real intention of the law to protect OFWs and give the impression that the new measure only seeks to collect much needed funds for the depleting coffers of the SSS.
PASEI opposes hike
The Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (PASEI) upholds that stand of the different land-based associations in the overseas employment sector, OFW communities and NGOs in opposing certain measures for the implementation of the Social Security Act of 2018.
PASEI acting President Raquel Espina-Bracero said that they particularly oppose the following provisions in the new SSS law as stated in its IRR: the payment of SSS premiums in the POEA collection system under a “No Payment, No OEC” basis; The advance payment of SSS premiums (P960 per month) by first time or new hire OFWs; and the three months payment (P360 x 3 – P2,880) payment of SSS premiums by “Balik-Manggagawa Workers” (BMWs), among others.
The group further explained that the compulsory SSS coverage is not equal to compulsory payment of SSS contribution. An individual can register as a member of the SSS even before employment and without advance payment of contribution.
PASEI opposes the compulsory advance payment of SSS contribution of land-based new hire OFWs and for re-hires advance payments for three monthly contributions.
Lastly, the group opposes the high contribution of P2,600 per month which will increase yearly by 1.5 per cent in the next six years.
While the program is good per se, the PASEI stressed that payments for the premiums of Pag-Ibig, PhilHealth and SSS should be made voluntary and not tied-up to the issuance of the OEC because that itself violates the right to abode. New hire overseas workers must start work before paying the premiums.
PASEI is the single largest industry association in the overseas employment with 300 agency members licensed by the POEA to recruit and deploy Filipino workers abroad.