MANILA — The Center for Migrant Advocacy-Philippines (CMA) said overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) urged the government to beef up its efforts in including more OFWs in social protection programs in the aftermath of the pandemic at a Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) webinar last April 7.

CMA said OFWs should be given access to social protection even in their countries of destination, noting that the pandemic left many of them vulnerable.

In a report by The Philippine Star, CMA executive Director Ellene Sana reiterated the need for a pro-active negotiation from the government for social protection measures including migrant domestic workers in bilateral labor agreements.

Sana pointed out that “there are a lot of exclusions in terms of access to social protection for OFWs, especially in the countries of destination.”

“There should be pro-active monitoring of private recruitment agencies and employers to ensure they comply with the social protection provisions in the employment contracts,” Sana said.

“Social protection is meant to be a solidarity program of social partners, employers, workers, and our government as a regulator,” she added.

In the webinar, Sana argued that not all OFWs benefit from local programs under the Social Security System (SSS), Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), and Pag-IBIG Fund among others.

She noted that “the most common benefits received by OFWs are those which meet immediate on-site needs rather than those that are considered as safety nets that allow them to smoothen consumption in times of shocks.”

“Basic worker benefits like health insurance, overtime pay, paid sick leave, and work accident compensation are less common and such a situation puts a significant proportion of Filipino migrant workers as potentially vulnerable because they have no access to social protection,” the report said.

“The point is for the state to make regulations, so that not only one party is paying for the contribution. The whole idea of social security is the solidarity contribution coming from both the workers and employers,” Sana said, noting that stranded OFWs at the onset of the pandemic were excluded from assistance in the countries they are working in as they are not recognized as regular workers and due to the existing notion that employers find it difficult to shoulder their contributions.

More aggressive efforts for inclusive social protection for OFWs

In PIDS’ study titled “Analyzing Filipino migrant workers’ access to social protection” by researchers Aubrey Tabuga, Anna Rita Vargas, and Maria Blesilda Mondez, they urged the government “to carry out more aggressive efforts toward inclusive health and social insurance coverage among OFWs.”

The study, which analyzed the results of the 2018 National Migration Survey (NMS) by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), observed that the level of mandatory social protection and health insurance programs among OFWs during their first job abroad is lower than what is desired given their improved capacity to contribute to these schemes.

“Only four in 10 OFWs (who had at least a three-month duration of international migration) are members of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). Some were dependents of PhilHealth members, while only very few are covered by private health insurance programs,” the study said.

“Meanwhile, there is a slightly higher proportion of OFWs who are members of the Social Security System (48 percent). Some three percent are covered by private insurance companies, while two percent are members of the Government Service Insurance System,” it added.

The study authors also noted the lack of health and social insurance coverage for many OFWs who have low educational attainment.

“Only 27 percent of OFWs with college degrees do not have social insurance coverage, while the rate is higher for those who are high school graduates at 52 percent. The rate is much higher (66 percent) for OFWs who only completed elementary education,” the study said.

“Only 22 percent of OFWs from the highest quintile are without health insurance coverage compared to 70 percent of those from the bottom quintile,” it added, with the study examining the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s (OWWA) membership coverage whose members are entitled to social benefits, educational scholarship and training benefits, welfare, reintegration, and repatriation programs.

The study also noted that many OFWs are missing out on OWWA benefits as membership remains lower than expected.

“Even though OWWA membership is mandatory, many OFWs bypassed this requirement when they first went out of the country,” the authors said.

The authors also reiterated that there is much to be done to boost the implementation of contracts between OFWs and their employers, particularly in the provision of benefits related to paid sick and maternity or paternity leaves, overtime pay, separation pay, and compensation for work-related accidents.

“For instance, only 53 percent of all OFWs surveyed reported having health insurance or medical allowance benefits, while 50 percent said they were entitled to payment for overtime work in their first overseas job. Meanwhile, 45 percent said their employers provided benefits that compensate for work accidents, and 39 percent reported having paid sick leave benefits,” it noted.

“Moreover, only 47 percent reported that they were entitled to holiday and other bonuses, while 37 percent said they have had paid vacation leaves as part of the set of benefits their employers provided. Notably, only 30 percent reported having separation pay benefits, and only 10 percent said that they were provided retirement benefits.”

“This shows the urgency of effective mechanisms for dialogue with host country governments to ensure that OFWs obtain adequate workers’ benefits while working abroad,” the authors emphasized.

OFW Center

In another report by the Philippine News Agency (PNA), President Rodrigo Duterte guaranteed the government’s commitment to ensuring the protection and welfare of OFWs.

“The productive collaboration of the government and its partner is the key to achieving concrete results for activities that promote the welfare and the holistic development of our unsung heroes,” Duterte said, with the one-stop hub for migrant workers a project of non-stock and non-profit organization Global Filipino Movement Foundation Inc.

“In recognition of their service and heroism, this administration has remained steadfast in providing the best service it could give to our OFWs,” he added.

During the groundbreaking rites of the OFW Center in Daang Hari, Las Piñas City on April 7, Duterte warned “stupid workers” in the government to cut bureaucratic red tape to accelerate the delivery of assistance to migrant workers.

“Lahat ng opisina na kailangan or who may have to intervene in the papers of migrant workers, kailangan nandoon sila,” he said.

“Sundin niyo because I still have – maybe I will… I am on my way out. Dadalhin ko kayo paglabas ko ng gobyerno kayong mga p***** i** niyo. Either you follow what I want. It’s not yours. It’s mine, it’s my call. It’s the executive department and I am the head of that department,” he added.

Last December 2021, Duterte signed Republic Act 11641 also known as “An Act Creating the Department of Migrant Workers” aimed at improving the coordination among agencies concerned with OFWs and their affairs.

Under the law, there will be a one-year transition period before the seven existing OFW offices (Department of Affairs’ Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, the International Labor Affairs Bureau, the National Reintegration Center for OFWs, the National Maritime Polytechnic, POEA, the Office of the Social Welfare Attaché and all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices) will be brought under the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) to avoid any disruption in services.