GROUPS representing Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are seeking a suspension of premium hikes recently charged by the Social Security System (SSS) on overseas workers.

Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute (BOPC) President Susan Ople said the center considers the hike an additional burden on OFWs, who stand to be denied a key exit document, the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) if they do not pay their SSS premiums with the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

The hike was authorized by the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. (RA) 11199 or the “Social Security Act of 2018.” Under RA 11199, SSS coverage will be compulsory for OFWs.

“Any imposition of additional financial burdens would push our workers away from existing legal deployment channels and make them less competitive against their rivals,” said Ms. Ople in a statement on Monday.

The BOPC also opposes the IRR provision requiring OFWs who return for short stays to pay a minimum of three months’ SSS premiums, which are estimated to cost a minimum of P2,880.

The Philippine Association of Service Exporters Inc (PASEI) also expressed fears about the level of contribution imposed on OFWs, which will increase annually by 1.5% in the next five years.

PASEI said that payment of premiums should be voluntary “and not tied up to the issuance of the OEC because that in itself violates their rights.”

Maritime and manning agencies said the new SSS law will make manning agencies the employers of sea-based OFWs.

In a statement, the Joint Manning Group (JMG) on Monday said, “The law treats manning agencies as ‘employers’ of OFW seafarers when they are not. The real employers of the seafarers, following the law’s own definition, are the foreign shipowners.”

JMG added that it plans to elevate the issue before the Supreme Court. — Gillian M. Cortez