By Leslie Ann Aquino
The head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People (CBCP ECMI) backed the call for a moratorium on all premium hikes to be collected from Filipino migrant workers.
CBCP ECMI chairman Bishop Ruperto Santos said they are supporting the call as the scheduled increases in OFW contributions to the Social Security System (SSS) and Philhealth would be an added financial burden and will cause more difficulties to migrant workers.
“It is added financial burden and will cause more difficulties to our OFWs,” he said in an interview.
“The newly increased rates are unfair and impaired the existing employment contracts of our OFWs, especially the seafarers,” added Santos.
He said payments to SSS, PhilHealth or Pag-ibig should also never be tied to the issuance of overseas employment certificates saying memberships should be “voluntary and encouraged.”
“There should be thorough review and study as new law of requiring OFWs to pay P960 per month SSS premium and returning OFWs of P2,880 for three months and if not there will be no OECs,” Santos said.
He said that this would “discourage” foreign employers of hiring OFWs.
“Our OFWs should be assisted, helped and promoted not to be burdened. And so there should be a moratorium on the said increase of contributions,” said Santos.
Earlier, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization that specializes in labor migration, warned that scheduled increases in OFW contributions to the SSS and Philhealth would likely push more workers to leave as tourists rather than go through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
“Any imposition of additional financial burdens would push our workers away from existing legal deployment channels and make them less competitive against their rivals,” former labor undersecretary Susan Ople, head of the policy center, said in a statement.
Ople Center together with 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 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 OEC.
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.
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.
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.