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Bid to junk escrow in seafarer bill gains

Bid to junk escrow in seafarer bill gains
Jovee Marie de la Cruz and Butch Fernandez September 7, 2023

APPEALING to senators to address “anti-seafarers” provisions in the proposed Magna Carta law for seafarers, a partylist group has urged the Senate to pass a Magna Carta bill with security of tenure and other benefits for them, and without an escrow provision.

Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares made the statement as he expressed concern over the insertion of an escrow provision in the Magna Carta for Seafarers Rights approved by the House of Representatives.

He called on the Senate not to do the same, saying it would essentially defeat the legal rights of seafarers to compensation for violations by ship owners and management.

When the Senate deliberated on the House-endorsed bill on Monday, several senators indicated they would oppose the escrow provision, which bars the outright grant of claims won by seafarers in labor court, so these could be put in escrow until the case –which could go all the way to the high court –is finally resolved. Those pushing it, including big manning agencies and shipping firms, had said the quick grant of monetary claims to seafarers encourages ambulance chasers who prod the workers to file even flimsy cases, and then walk away with the lion’s share of the won claims.

Opposers of this provision said, however, it unduly punishes complaining seafarers, including those who filed for damages, who often can barely find good-paying jobs after being injured at work. Making them wait for many years while their money is in escrow is injust, critics said—a point that senators like Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros and Migrant Workers committee chair Sen. Raffy Tulfo agreed with.

In Colmenares’s explanation, “The Magna Carta for Seafarers Rights approved by the House of Representatives inserted a provision that even if seafarers win their case for compensation against employers, the award for compensation will be placed on escrow and will not be given to them while the employer appeals. The current rule is if seafarers win their case at the NLRC, the compensation shall be awarded to the winning seafarer even if the employer appeals.

The House-inserted escrow provision essentially deprives seafarers of compensation for injuries suffered and other violations of ship owners and management, as they will have to wait for years before the award is given to them.

As it is, Colmenares said, “seafarers are already burdened with the long process of filing complaints and claims for injuries suffered during employment. If they win their case, the compensation awarded will help a lot in their hospital bills from their injury as well as provide support for their families as they are now unemployed due to the injuries they suffered.”

According to Colmenares, the escrow provision will deprive them of their benefits as they will have to wait for many years when the ship owner appeals to the Supreme Court.

“The ship owners have all the legal rights and the resources to defend themselves. They have the right to hire the best lawyers to oppose any claim against them in the NLRC; they can ask for a restraining order or TRO against any compensation awarded to the seafarer; they have the right to appeal; and if they ever win their case on appeal, they have the right to demand restitution. The escrow provision will only load the dice in favor of ship owners and management and against ordinary seafarers,” he said.

Colmenares also condemned the statement of Netherlands Ambassador Marielle Geraedts that if no escrow provision is passed, “ambulance chasing” will be endemic in the Philippines.

“Reducing the battle for workers’ and seafarers’ rights to ambulance chasing, as if the claims for compensation by workers are untrue and baseless, is certainly reprehensible. If these compensation claims by seafarers are mere lies and baseless, why are the ship owners with their highly paid lawyers losing their labor cases? Unless Ambassdor Geraedts implies that the labor arbiters and NLRC commissioners are paid bribes to favor baseless claims by seafarers, she should not publicly declare that these labor cases filed by workers are baseless and mere ambulance chasing,” he said.

“I urge the Senate to pass a Magna Carta law that does not provide the same escrow provision as the House and instead pass a law that recognizes the rights of seafarers including security of tenure and other benefits. We are glad that Sen. Raffy Tulfo, as well as other senators, have expressed opposition to the escrow provision,” he added.

Under the House-approved House Bill 7325, any monetary award by the arbitrator to the seafarer or the seafarer’s successors-in-interest, made whether in a voluntary or mandatory arbitration or by the National Labor Relations Commissions, shall be placed in escrow if the employer or manning agency has raised or intends to raise the decision for judicial review in accordance with the Rules of Court.

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.

The amount shall remain in escrow until the issuance of any entry of judgment by the appropriate reviewing court or when the employer or manning agency fails to perfect the appeal or petition for review. The fees for obtaining or maintaining the escrow account shall be paid by the employer or the manning agency.

The interest earned on the amount in escrow shall be insured to the benefit of the prevailing party. However, the seafarer or the seafarer’s successors-in-interest may, in accordance with the Rules of Court, move for the execution of the monetary award pending appeal upon posting of a bond, the amount of which shall be determined by the appropriate court.