President Duterte signs new SSS law

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President Duterte (Karl Norman Alonzo/ Presidential Photo)

OVERSEAS Filipino workers (OFWs) will now be covered by the Social Security System (SSS) after President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the Social Security Act of 2018.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea confirmed on February 15 that the President had signed the new law, which makes SSS coverage mandatory for land-based and sea-based OFWs.

SSS president Emmanuel Dooc said that, with the measure, the life of the pension

fund will be extended by 13 years from 2032 to 2045.

“Filipinos who work outside the country are more prone to risks as they are exposed to unfamiliar environment while they are trying to earn for their family. Our goal here is to ensure that all of OFWs will be protected under the SSS,” Dooc said.

“This law also provides unemployment insurance for those who will be involuntarily displaced from employment. Under the law, displaced workers will get financial assistance from SSS in the form of cash equivalent to half of their average monthly salary credit for two months,” Dooc added.

At present, SSS members are covered with sickness, maternity, disability, retirement, funeral and death/survivor benefits.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) were directed to negotiate bilateral labor agreements with host countries of OFWs to ensure the employers pay the required SSS contributions.

DOLE will hold the first round of public consultations this month to resolve contentious issues on the new law, including premium payments for the mandatory membership of land-based OFWs.

While supporting the mandatory SSS coverage for OFWs, advocacy groups and recruitment agencies are opposed to the proposal to charge the initial minimum contribution of P960 to OFWs before they are deployed abroad.

Blas F. Ople Policy Center head Susan Ople said imposing additional pre-departure charges might encourage potential OFWs to use illegal channels to leave abroad.

Estrelita Hizon, the private sector representative at the governing board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, aired a similar sentiment.

“We are not against OFWs becoming members of the SSS,” Hizon said in an interview.

“What we are opposing is making it part of the requirement for an Overseas Employment Certificate. This will be a great injustice to the OFWs, and it defeats the purpose of SSS to help them,” she added.

Labor chief Silvestre Bello III said representatives from DOLE and DFA will participate in the consultation to ensure the that its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) will have no detrimental impact on the welfare of OFWs.

“What is important is for us not to make it hard for OFWs because the role of the law is to help OFWs by giving them compulsory SSS coverage,” Bello said.

Under the new law, the DFA and DOLE “are mandated to negotiate bilateral labor agreements with the OFWs’ host countries to ensure that the employers of land-based OFWs, similar to the principals of sea-based OFWs, pay the required SSS contributions.”

The Philippines, thru the SSS as lead negotiator, had already forged into 13 bilateral social security agreements with Austria, UK and Northern Ireland, Spain, France, Canada, Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, Germany and Japan.

The new law is expected to increase the number of OFW members of the SSS from 500,000 to 2.5 million.