March 11, 2009
Members of the labor groups Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) and United Cavite Workers Association trooped to the main office of the SSS for a picket-protest against the SSS Administrator Romulo Neri’s declaration that the social security fund will not release loans to laid-off workers. They also reiterated the call for Neri’s resignation for “not just being hard-fisted with SSS funds but being cold-hearted to the workers.”
Renato Magtubo, PM chairperson argued that “SSS loans to the displaced is more justified than lending P12.5 billion of the workers fund for government infrastructure projects that the World Bank has exposed as graft-ridden. And since Neri cannot tell the truth about the NBN ZTE deal, he can hardly be trusted to reveal the real condition of SSS funds.”
The protesters brought a life preserver as a symbol of the importance of SSS as a safety net and social protection for workers. “At the precise moment when workers are struggling against drowning in the crisis, Neri punctures the life preserver of SSS loans that is one way to save the displaced,” Magtubo insisted.
Among the protesters was Elisabeth Sayson, a garment worker with the Ultimate Dream Fashion in the Cavite Economic Zone in Rosario who had completed paying 36 months in contributions but was denied a loan since she had been dismissed from work this month. “Workers in export zones usually complain of capitalists who do not remit deductions from our wages. Now we have to fight SSS itself for denying us the right to avail of our very own money that we had entrusted to it,” Sayson criticized.
PM opposes the SSS position that displaced workers can only avail of emergency loans if they continue membership as “voluntary members.” Sayson argued that “How can we continue contributing to the SSS when we are out of work and without an income. We are ready to contribute to the SSS if the government gives an unemployment subsidy to retrenched workers until we can find a new job. If not then the government must subsidize the employee and employer contributions to SSS so that our benefits will not be cut off.”
The group also declared that the summer jobs being offered by SSS can complement but cannot be a replacement for loans for displaced workers. The protesters say that 2,000 summer jobs are not a safety net but a band aid solution given that tens of thousands of workers and counting have been laid off.
Magtubo reiterated their position that “The SSS must open its books for an audit by representatives of organized labor other than those already sitting in its board. Congress should also study an amendment to the SSS law in order to lift the 10 per cent ceiling and the necessity of a government infusion of money to the workers’ fund so it can provide benefits for the estimated hundreds of thousands of workers that will be displaced. The 10 per cent limit should not be a concrete ceiling but a movable elevator that can be adjusted as the conditions require.”
“We sacrificed part of their daily pay for social security contributions in preparation for a rainy day. Now is that rainy day. In fact this is bound to be a rainy season. To deny workers this social protection in their hour of need is cruel,” Sayson stated.