June 17, 2019
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization that specializes in labor migration, warned that scheduled increases in OFW contributions to the Social Security System (SSS) and Philhealth would likely push more workers to leave as tourists rather than go through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
In a joint press conference held this morning at the Aloha Hotel in Manila, the Ople Center together with representatives from the land-based and sea-based sectors, called for a moratorium on all premium hikes to be collected from Filipino migrant workers.
Former labor undersecretary Susan Ople, head of the policy center, noted that both the executive and legislative branches of government should take it slow in imposing mandatory contributions for all overseas workers.
“The outlook for our overseas workers is not at its brightest, with tensions rising throughout the Middle East and 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 said it is watching keenly the ongoing protests in Hong Kong in light of its possible impact on the economic vibrancy of the territory. “Many of our domestic workers in Hong Kong have employers that are very much against the proposed extradition law.”
Aside from the Ople Center, the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc (PASEI) and the Joint Manning Group representing the sea-based sector as well as NGOs namely KAMPI and KAKAMMPI also urged the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to reject the provision in the published Implementing Rules and Regulations of the SSS that would tie-up OFW collections with the issuance of an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC).
“This will be a bleak Christmas if the SSS succeeds in its intention to collect three months in advance collection from every vacationing OFW as a condition for the release of their OECs. The POEA should not play the role of Scrooge, since the law itself does not specify such a lopsided arrangement,” the Ople Center said.
Under the IRR recently published by the SSS, a returning OFW including those coming home for emergency and/or vacation leaves will pay three months contribution to the SSS. This year, that would entail a payment of P2,880 per vacationing OFW based on the minimum rate of contributions. The amount would be higher for skilled and professional workers including seafarers.
The Ople Center said that in addition to the increase in SSS premiums for OFWs, the migrant workers would also need to shell out more money to pay to Philhealth, from the current fixed rate of P2,400 a year to a salary-based P6,864 by September of this year, for overseas domestic workers.
“The salaries of our domestic workers abroad have been stagnant for more than a decade. Asking them to pay that much considering that they will be away from the country for at least two years, would cause undue burden given their vulnerable status and work conditions,” Susan Ople said.
Under the draft IRR as presented by Philhealth officials to various OFW groups, the minimum contributions of an overseas domestic worker will reach up to P12,480 per year in 2024, or five years from now.
The Ople Center said the overseas employment sector hopes to be able to reach out to Senator Bong Go as the incoming chair of the Committee on Health to discuss urgent amendments to the Social Security Act of 2018 and the Universal Health Care Act specifically on its OFW provisions.
“Social protection is a good thing, but affordability should also be considered for it to be sustainable,” the Center said.
Other representatives of OFW groups that joined the press conference were: Raquel Bracero and Loreto Soriano of PASEI, Capt. Oca Orbeto and Eric Marquez for the Joint Manning Group, and Susan Ople with Luther Calderon representing their respective NGOs. Capt. Gaudencio Morales, founder of the Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines and chairman of the Center for OFW Reintegration and Empowerment also attended the press conference together with other CORE members.