House panel OKs proposed magna carta of Filipino seafarers

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 09 2023 07:37 PM

MANILA - The House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs has approved the proposed Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers.

Members of the committee made last minute changes to the consolidated substitute bill prior to approval of the bill as well as the committee report. 

These are the inclusion of the role of women seafarers in the declaration of policy, five- year mandatory review of the implementation as a matter of congressional oversight, inclusion of the Department of Labor and Employment in crafting the implementing rules and regulations, the inclusion of the period for validation and payment of seafarers claims to curb the practice of ambulance chasing lawyers, the creation of a "tambayan" for seafarers by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, including the Department of Migrant Workers as a regular member of the MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) Board, and the reiteration of exemptions for legitimate labor organizations.

The proposed law shall cover Filipino seafarers who are employed or engaged or work in any capacity on board foreign-registered ships and Philippine-registered ships operating internationally.

The proposed magna carta has provisions for seafarers' rights; duties of seafarers; medical certificate; medical care on board ships and ashore; settlement of disputes; and women in the maritime industry. 

It also spells out minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship. 

It also spells out requirements for duly-licensed recruitment or manning agencies. Likewise, it prescribes what should be included in the standard employment contract for seafarers as well as conditions of employment and their benefits.

The bill will also mandate the DMW and MARINA, respectively, to maintain a registry of all seafarers in the Philippines. 

“This is the culmination of our hard work over the past few months, listening with various stakeholders to create a bill that is holistic and responsive to the needs of our seafarers and concerns of the maritime sector,” House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs chair and Kabayan Partylist Representative Ron Salo said.

“The substitute bill addresses the perennial problem of the maritime higher educational institutions’ (MHEI) lack of training ships and the difficulty of our cadets to complete their shipboard training by requiring registered shipowners to accept cadets, and for MHEIs to enter into an agreement with the shipowners for the shipboard training of our cadets,” Salo explained.

“This will also address the recent findings of the European Maritime Safety Association (EMSA) on our country’s compliance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW Convention),” he added. 

“Further, the magna carta adopts measures to ensure that our maritime education curriculum follows international standards,” Salo said. 

He said the bill regulates the imposition of training fees upon cadets, as cadets were previously being charged exorbitantly for their shipboard training.

“To provide for more domestic employment opportunities, Section 61 of the substitute Magna Carta also provides the establishment of non-degree courses on maritime education and training, and allows such non-degree holders to undergo shipboard training, for purposes of employment in the domestic seafaring industry,” Salo explained.

“This Magna Carta will go a long way in solving a myriad of issues with the Philippine maritime sector. I would like to congratulate all the authors, committee members, government agencies, and all stakeholders for their active participation and support. And of course to the House leadership, Speaker Martin Romualdez, for making this bill a priority, ” he said.

“With everyone’s support, especially the vital inputs and recommendations in fine-tuning the provisions of the bill, we are confident that we have a well-crafted and balanced Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers that our seafarers and the whole maritime sector will be proud of,” Salo concluded.

Gabriela Party List Rep. Arlene Brosas called the bill a step forward, but she flagged one provision.

"Mr. Chair, we take note of the efforts to include the application of pertinent provisions such as seafarers' rights for domestic seafarers, the mandating of minimum hiring of cadets in passenger and cargo ships, and the regulation of fees by maritime schools. We had hoped that the final version would have also included the application of standards of employment for domestic seafarers, except the fixed employment contracts. Nevertheless, this measure is a step forward," Brosas said.

"Except for Section 50, Mr. Chair, regarding the depositing of the contested amount in escrow is a big red-flag. This overturns the hard-fought battle of seafarers for their claims. Kawawa ang mga marino natin nito, Mr. Chair. The ruling of the NLRC commissioners should suffice for the awarding of benefits and claims. Why should we let seafarers suffer for any potential error in judgment by the commissioners?" Brosas explained.

Brosas sought the deletion of Section 50 (Escrow as a Manner of Execution), claiming that it places primacy on the discretion of employers on determining the contested and uncontested amount. "It also constitutes a diminution of benefits and monetary award already won by seafarers at the NLRC after years of legal battle. While this representation fully supports the legislation of a Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, I cannot affix my name to a proposed measure that contains an unconstitutional provision and that which shall be challenged in court later," Brosas said.

The bill will be submitted to the plenary session for the action of the whole House.