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NR # 3096
Health and medical benefits for agri workers pushed
A lawmaker has vowed to continue his fight for the protection of agricultural workers in the country especially in the promotion of their health. Rep. Rafael V. Mariano (Party-list, AnakPawis) vowed to pursue a measure providing for the mandatory coverage of agricultural workers in the National Health Insurance Program of the government under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). Mariano cited a statistical report of a national organization of agricultural workers in the country, Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), stating that there is an estimated 1.5 million agricultural/farm workers nationwide employed in agribusiness plantations and agricultural estates which are owned and run by wealthy landlords and commercial farms. “In Negros, there are 297,000 farmworkers in sugarcane plantations owned by rich and well-known landlords,” Mariano said. “Agricultural workers/farmworkers are hired at plantations in Mindanao, like DoleStanfilco, Del Monte-Philippines, Lapanday, Davao Agri-Venture Corporations among others, are being managed by big foreign and domestic corporations,” Mariano added. He said agricultural/farm workers are usually paid way below the minimum wage, working beyond the normal hours of work and their tenure of employment are not secured. According to Mariano, "under existing laws, only permanent workers are entitled to social benefits such as housing and health benefits and even if contractual and seasonal agricultural/ farm workers will be covered by the existing government health program, they cannot afford to pay the contributions required under the law because of their low wages." This, Mariano said, is a cause for concern because workers from the agricultural sector are exposed to chemicals and other hazards. "Agricultural/farm workers regardless of their status of employment suffer from diseases which are work-related, like skin diseases, heart and lung ailments, among others due to exposure to some chemicals and inhumane work conditions. Symptoms of some of these diseases only manifest months or even years after exposure to chemicals and other hazards in their employment,” Mariano said.
“Families of these agricultural/farm workers are not also spared from the effects of chemicals being used in the plantations since they live in barangays near the plantations. They are prone to inhale the chemicals, pesticides and insecticides, being used in the plantations especially when these chemicals are applied through aerial spraying. They too, acquire illnesses and this fact adds to the burden being carried by the workers,” Mariano added. Mariano said the State’s policy is to adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development, which endeavors to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all people. House Bill 6684, also known as the Agricultural Workers’ Insurance Benefit Act, mandates the land owners or corporations to enroll their agricultural/farm workers in PhilHealth whether they are permanent, contractual or seasonal, provided they have rendered at least six months of continuous work, the author said. Under the measure, the corporation or landowner of the landholding in which the agricultural/farm workers render work shall pay for one-half of the monthly contribution of persons to be enrolled in the NHIP-PhilHealth, and that the remaining one-half of the monthly contribution shall be paid by the national government, through PhilHealth. PhilHealth-covered agricultural workers shall enjoy all the benefits provided for by PhilHealth to its members. Separated or non-renewed contractual agricultural workers and their dependents shall continuously enjoy the benefits of PhilHealth within six months from separation. “For six months, the national government shall pay for the monthly contribution of the separated seasonal and contractual agricultural workers,” Mariano said. For each un-enrolled agricultural/farm worker, a fine of not more than P500,000 shall be slapped on their landowners or corporations. Further, the landowner or corporation is also liable to pay P50,000 for each unenrolled agricultural/farm worker. The measure shall require the PhilHealth to formulate and publish the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of this Act. (30) jsc