SSS and the ‘kasambahay’
The guests at yesterday’s (Tuesday) “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel,” particularly members of the “core group,” had been warned beforehand. “Personal matters are to be taken up with Marissu after our main guest has left,” decreed Bulong’s very own “mother hen,” the Bulletin’s Deedee Siytangco.
True enough, even before the forum was over, guests were lining up before Marissu Bugante, Social Security System vice president for public affairs, whose voice should be familiar to radio listeners interested in the minutiae of SSS pensions, payments, loans and other flotsam and jetsam of the employee’s life.
Still, despite the warning, questions addressed to Emil de Quiros, the genial SSS president and CEO, often bordered on the very specific, personal concerns of his interrogators. Most of these, as you may have realized, concerned the “Kasambahay Law,” the legislation that mandates, among other things, the enrollment of house help in the SSS, Philhealth (for health insurance) and Pag-Ibig Fund (for housing). Gather any two or more members of the striving Filipino middle-class and the Kasambahay Law is sure to come up at some point. And Bulong was no exception.
Most of the concerns center around the added red tape involved in enrolling domestic helpers in the three government agencies, and the added expense, as well, of paying for the domestic employees’ premiums and membership dues.
De Quiros protests that the Kasambahay Law was not an initiative of the SSS under him or his predecessors. “It’s an initiative of the Department of Labor,” he informed the Bulong crowd. But the law’s provisions that have the greatest impact on householders, it seems, is the requirement to have house help enrolled in the SSS, Philhealth and Pag-Ibig.
But what of the requirement to pay for long-time house help’s SSS membership dues dating to as far back as the 1990s, a requirement that has caused wailing and gnashing of teeth from their employers? De Quiros explains that house help had been required to be enrolled in the SSS by earlier versions of the Labor Code. But it wasn’t until the enactment of the Kasambahay Law, it seems, that government agencies, including the SSS, got serious about enforcing these provisions.
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Which brings me to certain reservations I’ve since had about the Kasambahay Law.
When it was first brought up by, if I remember right, then Rep. Jack Enrile (who has since, I heard, disowned his authorship of the law, saying he no longer recognized its final form), I was fully, 100 percent, behind it.
I believed it was high time household employees enjoyed security of tenure, just wages and fair working conditions. But then practicality collided with principle. I’ve since become a skeptic.
Because of the requirement to pay past membership dues to house help of long standing, many employers, to avoid paying the rather huge amounts, have been forced to concoct arrangements with their faithful retainers. These employees are asked to say they have just been hired, just to save their amo from paying a rather hefty sum.
What I object to is that this onerous requirement makes lawbreakers of otherwise meek, law-abiding citizens who are willing to pay house help the legal wage and cover their insurance, but not to shell out a large amount in one go.
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To this De Quiros points out that such an arrangement, while cost-saving to the employer, puts the employee at a disadvantage. “If a kasambahay for, say, 20 years, swears that she’s been employed for only three years, when she reaches retirement age, she will not be eligible for the full pension,” he says.
What an employer can do, he adds helpfully, is to pay for the first month of membership and then negotiate to pay for the back dues on installment. “At least the interest charge immediately stops,” he says.
The SSS also requires the householder to get a new SSS number as an employer, even if he or she already has an SSS membership number. This may sound innocuous enough, but if you’ve been to an SSS office (De Quiros admits that SSS offices are not enough in number, resulting in congested premises), you’d know that getting a new number entails falling in line for many hours. And if you’re an ordinary employee (albeit with a helper), these are hours you don’t have.
A pleasant enough development is that the three agencies are now preparing a “unified” form for householders to fill out. Teams from the three offices have likewise been formed to visit subdivisions, villages or barangays to orient households on the Kasambahay Law and enroll the house help in one go.
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One basic obstacle, though, is that to enroll in these agencies, a kasambahay needs to present a birth certificate—which is, for many of them, a practically insurmountable problem. Even if birth certificates are available online, can house help have access to a computer, and would he or she know how to navigate the website of the census bureau?
Good news, then, is De Quiros’ assurance that for kasambahay, any other form of identification, including a certificate from the barangay chair, can substitute for a birth certificate.
Equally good news is that, under the P-Noy administration, officers and directors of government-owned and -controlled corporations like the SSS are governed by strict guidelines enforced by a GOCC oversight committee. While SSS representatives do sit on the boards of companies where the pension fund has investments, says De Quiros, they are limited to no more than two companies each, and are required to remit all their allowances and bonuses to the national treasury.
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