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House OKs Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers on second reading

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers on second reading.

House Bill 7325 provides for the standard employment contract of the seafarer, which contains the terms and conditions of employment duly approved by the Department of Migrant Workers, as well as requiring shipowners to provide decent accommodations and recreational facilities onboard ships in accordance with the standards, regulations, and applicable provisions of the 2006 Maritime Labor Convention.

It mandates shipowners to ensure the protection of the health of seafarers by carrying onboard free food and drinking water of appropriate quality, quantity, and nutritional value.

It also provides for a "green lane" for seafarers, a privilege that will exempt them from travel-related or health-related movement restrictions to facilitate crew change when national or international emergencies warrant.

The bill also mandates all maritime higher education institutions offering the Bachelor of Science in Maritime Transportation (BSMT), Bachelor of Science in Maritime Engineering (BSMarE), and other maritime degree programs to either have their own training ships or enter into agreements with local or international shipping companies, shipowners, or manning agencies for the shipboard training of their students.

Other rights provided to Filipino seafarers under the bill include:

  • safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards
  • fair terms and conditions of employment
  • decent working and living conditions on board a ship
  • health protection
  • medical care
  • welfare measures and other forms of social protection
  • self-organization, engage in collective bargaining, and participate in democratic exercises
  • free legal representation and speedy disposition of the case
  • appropriate grievance mechanism
  • fair treatment in the event of a maritime accident, among others.

"This is to protect the rights and promote the welfare of Filipino seafarers by providing a code of laws, or Magna Carta, [that] contains their rights, duties, conditions of employment, minimum requirements to work on a ship, and other entitlements, together with the duties and responsibilities of the shipowners and manning agencies," the committee report on the measure read.

"This is also to recognize seafarers as essential workers that need special protection and grant them certain rights as maritime workers to ensure that they are treated fairly at all times, especially in the event of a maritime accident, epidemic, pandemic, or other natural or man-made crises," it added.

The bill covers Filipino seafarers who are employed, engaged, or work in any capacity on board foreign-registered ships and Philippine-registered ships operating internationally.

But for House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas of Gabriela party-list, the bill has been watered down since its Section 51 states that monetary compensation for seafarers who win a labor case filed with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) will not be paid immediately but will be deposited in escrow.

The money held in escrow, under House Bill 7325, will only be released once the appropriate reviewing court rules on the case with finality or when the employer or manning agency fails to file an appeal.

A seafarer may move for the execution of the monetary award pending appeal as long as he or she pays a bond.

"Under the Labor Code of the Philippines, no employee is required to pay a bond for execution. Kaya hindi makatarungan na ipataw ito sa mga seafarers kapag nagsampa sila ng kaso (It is unjust to impose such a condition on seafarers who file cases)," Brosas said during her interpellation.

"This will also be a dangerous precedent and will have a significant impact on labor claims governing the immediately final and executory nature of decisions issued by the NLRC," she added.

Section 51, however, also states that "the amount in escrow shall not include claims for salaries, statutory monetary benefits, or those originally determined by the employer or manning agency to be legally due to the seafarer." —VBL, GMA Integrated News