Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Labor group asks SSS to allot more funds for displaced workers from increased revenue

21 April 2009

The militant labor party-list group, Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), is urging the Social Security System (SSS) to allocate more funds for displaced workers given the reported increase in the pension fund’s income last year.

SSS Executive Vice-President Horacio T. Templo declared the other day that the pension fund’s net revenue reached P22.8 billion in 2008 from P12.1 billion in the previous year, or an increase of 88 percent. The increase, according to Templo, mainly came from the sale of its shares in Meralco and Banco De Oro. Membership contribution also rose 11.4%, from P61.8 billion to P68.9 billion. In effect, the fund’s return on investment rose to 10.9% from 8% in 2007.

Labor first

PM chair Renato Magtubo said this is welcome news for labor, yet this can only be true if benefits from this rise in revenue redound directly to the real owners of the fund – the private sector employees who are now reeling from the impact of the global economic crisis.

In the face of the raging economic crisis, the labor leader challenged the government to promote a “labor first policy” not only to protect labor rights during crisis but also to serve as a policy guide for the better and appropriate use of our resources.

“For so many years we workers are not even aware of how our pension fund is being managed and where our contributions are being invested. Many times we hear of reports that the fund is being used to bail out private firms. Perhaps this is our turn to demand that our fund be used to bailout the workers in the face of the raging economic crisis,” stressed Magtubo.

Earlier, the SSS contributed some P12.5-B to President Arroyo’s P330-B ‘stimulus package’, which is most likely to be used, as feared by many sectors, for patronage politics.

Reversal of “no loan policy”

Magtubo added that Templo’s disclosure effectively reversed the fund’s previous pronouncements that it has run out of money to extend assistance to workers affected by the crisis.

It is recalled that early last month, SSS Chair Romulo Neri, defended the fund’s “no loan policy” for laid-off workers, saying that the 10% mandated ceiling for benefits has already been breached. Neri was only forced to reverse his position when the Partido ng Manggagawa protested the callousness of such a policy. A week later, the SSS announced that it has allocated P500 million for displaced workers.

But the labor group said the P500 million window is surely not enough to mitigate the impact of massive job loss. Only about 50,000 displaced workers can avail of the fund if they are provided a P10,000 one-month unemployment subsidy. The labor department, however, said that some 40,000 workers lost their jobs since October while over a hundred thousand are either affected by reduced work hours and wage cuts. And the number is still growing especially in the export zones.

PM insists that direct subsidy or loan facilities for displaced SSS members be extended to at least six months, as their transition to finding new jobs takes longer due to the deepening economic crisis. NEDA Director-General Ralph Recto estimated the cost of this measure to about P7 billion.

Extending unemployment subsidy/insurance to displaced workers is one of the demands in the “bailout package for workers and the poor” advocated by the Partido ng Manggagawa. Other demands include a tax refund, reform and expansion of public employment program, extension of healthcare coverage, and moratorium on demolitions and evictions.

The group is also demanding the reversal of liberalization, deregulation and privatization policies, which it claims, were responsible for the country’s chronic underdevelopment.

PM, along with other labor groups, are set to launch series of protest actions including a “Lakbayan” to press for those demands leading to a bigger Labor Day action on May 1.

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