Magna Carta for seafarers hurdles House on final reading

By LLANESCA T. PANTI,GMA Integrated News

The House of Representatives on Monday approved the Magna Carta for Filipino seafarers on the third and final reading.

House Bill 7325, which received 304 yes votes, four no votes, and no abstention, provides for a standard employment contract of the seafarer which contains the terms and conditions of employment duly approved by the Department of Migrant Workers.

It also requires shipowners to provide decent accommodations and recreational facilities onboard ships following the standards, regulations and applicable provisions of the 2006 Maritime Labor Convention.

The measure also 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.

The Magna Carta 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.

House Bill 7325 also mandates all maritime higher education institutions offering Bachelor of Science in Maritime Transportation (BSMT), Bachelor of Science in Maritime Engineering (BSMarE), and other maritime degree programs to have training ships, or enter into agreements with local or international shipping companies, shipowners, or manning agencies for the shipboard training of their students.

Other provided rights of Filipino seafarers under House Bill 7325 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, engaging in collective bargaining and participating 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, which 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,” the committee report added.

House Bill 7325 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 measure is not genuinely for seafarers since it did  not contain the two provisions that the Makabayan bloc pushed: the inclusion of fishing vessels and the provision of security of tenure for those who have worked for a cumulative one year with their employer or manning agency.

“Worse, this bill contains qualified inclusion of domestic merchant ships, excluding the application of provisions regarding standard employment contracts, payment of wages, among others on domestic seafarers,” Brosas said in her defense of a no vote.

Brosas also criticized the provision that the compensation stemming from a won case before the National Labor Relations Commission will be held in escrow and will only be released once the Court of Appeals decides on it with finality.

Seafarers who seek to get their NLRC award without the court's final decision will then have to pay a bond.

“The contested amount of money will be held in escrow and will only be released if Court of Appeals  says so. Sabi nga, aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo? Malupit ang probisyon nito, Mr. Speaker, dahil wala naming maraming perang panggastos ang ating mga marino para sabayan ang apela ng kapitalista sa Court of Appeals o sa Korte Suprema. Hindi dapat gawing pasanin ng mga marino ang maling desisyon ng NLRC,” Brosas said.

(What will such compensation serve if they are already dead? This is a cruel provision, Mr. Speaker, because seafarers do not have enough resources to take on a legal battle against the capitalist to the Court of Appeals and all the way to the Supreme Court. They should not be burdened over NLRC’s wrong decisions.) —NB, GMA Integrated News