The Social Security System (SSS) recorded 1.34 million overseas Filipino worker (OFW) members in May 2021 – an 11.5% increase from the same period in 2020.
According to SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Aurora Ignacio, the increase could be attributed to the worsening economic conditions under the COVID-19 pandemic. These may have pushed more Filipinos to seek jobs abroad to better support their families, she said.
“Our modern-day heroes are not only hardworking breadwinners for their family but are also huge contributors to the Philippine economy, thanks to their remittances,” said Ignacio.
Ignacio added that OFWs should receive sufficient safety nets, especially during emergencies. These include social security benefits, loan privileges, and other savings schemes “to ensure that their hard-earned income can turn into gainful investment in the long run.”
The estimated number of OFWs stands at 2.2 million as of 2019, based on the latest numbers from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 made SSS coverage mandatory for OFWs not older than 60 years old, but the OFWs still need to apply for membership themselves.
In May 2021, the PSA pegged the unemployment rate in the country at 7.7% – a 1% decrease from the previous month as lockdowns began to ease.
However, ING Bank Manila senior economist Nicholas Mapa noted that the latest rate was still distant from the 5.4% average unemployment rate prior to the pandemic.
While more than 44 million Filipinos have jobs in the country, the Asian Development Bank noted that these jobs may be of low quality. There was a rise in self-employed individuals and workers in the informal sector – a type of employment deemed to be less stable.
Many OFWs put up with difficult working conditions, exploitation, illegal recruitment schemes, and sometimes even the danger of jobs in conflict zones – just so they can provide adequately for their families.
The SSS said it would work “extensively” to cover the remaining 860,000 OFWs by enhancing its partnerships with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and other groups that cater to the sector.
“Uncertainties may arise while working overseas, and this is why we emphasize the importance of financial security and stability, especially when OFWs decide to retire and return to the Philippines,” said Ignacio.
“Maintaining an SSS membership is a good start and paying their contributions regularly is a huge step to ensure that they can maximize the benefits and privileges when the need arises,” she added.
The SSS offers sickness, maternity, disability, unemployment, retirement, funeral, and death benefits for OFWs. They can also avail salary, calamity, educational, housing, and pension loans.