Ship manning agencies challenge new SSS law provision for OFWs

By Rey Panaligan

A group of ship manning agencies asked the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday (June 17) to declare unconstitutional provisions in the Social Security Act of 2018 that impose a mandatory contribution of overseas Filipino workers to the Social Security System (SSS) and declare them as employers.

In a petition, the Joint Ship Manning Group, Inc. asked the SC to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the implementation of Section 9-B of Republic Act No. 11199 that provides compulsory social security coverage for overseas Filipino workers and considers manning agencies dealing with sea-based OFWs as employers.

Among other things, Section 9-B of RA 11199 provides that “coverage in the SSS shall be compulsory upon all sea-based OFWs…” and “manning agencies are agents of their principals and are considered as employers of sea-based OFWs.”

RA 11199 (Social Security Act of 2018) was signed into law by President Duterte last February.  It requires mandatory SSS contribution of over three million OFWs.

Through lawyer Blessilda Abad, the ship manning group told the SC that Section 9-B of RA 11199 is unfair to the sea-based manning agencies which are considered as employers when they are only recruiters of foreign employers.

“In a way, the liabilities are being passed on to the manning agencies, the recruiters, instead of the employers. So instead of the employers being the ship owners, what happens is the manning agencies are declared employers when all they did was really to recruit the OFWs,” Abad told journalists covering the SC.

However, Abad pointed out that the members of the sea-based manning group in the Philippines do not oppose the compulsory coverage of the OFWs they recruited under the SSS.

“What our concern is that the way it’s being implemented violates the rights of the sea-based manning agencies,” Abad stressed.

At the same time, the petition challenged the "joint and several liabilities” imposed on sea-based manning agencies and special criminal liability on managers for acts committed by foreign employers.

Earlier, SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Dooc had said that one of the advantages of the law is covering the social security of all OFWs.

Dooc had said that SSS coverage of OFWs will secure their retirement through entitlement to lifetime pension benefits.

He said that out of three million OFWs only about 600,000 are SSS registered members.