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Group slams 'anti-seafarer provisions' in new Magna Carta bill

Group slams 'anti-seafarer provisions' in new Magna Carta bill
Cristina Chi - March 10, 2023

Filipino seafarers shows thumb up sign during the inaguarion of Seafarer center in Manila, 22 December 2006. Filippino seamen work on ships all over the world and the money they send back home is a major source of foreign exchnage in thie poverty-stricken country. AFP PHOTO/JOEL NITO
MANILA, Philippines — A migrant workers coalition sounded the alarm on Friday over the “anti-seafarer” provisions in the Magna Carta for seafarers bill approved on final reading at the House of Representatives.

In a statement, Migrante International said it “rejects the watered-down version” of the Magna Carta of Seafarers or House Bill 7325.

Migrante warned that the measure would delay the release of monetary awards to seafarers who win a labor case, placing seafarers at a disadvantage compared to other workers from other industries.

With 304 affirmative votes, the House approved the Magna Carta for Seafarers bill on March 6. Only four House members voted no, including Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Women's Party), who authored one of the unconsolidated initial versions of the bill.

Migrante hit the “unconstitutional” insertion of the Escrow provision, which “mandates that money awards won by seafarers in the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) or the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) will not be released to them in full.”

This provision means the money won by a seafarer in a labor dispute would be deposited in an escrow, a third party that would temporarily hold the money. The escrow would only release the money once all legal options before the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are exhausted and a final ruling is out, which could take years.

“This is too much! Cases in the NLRC and NCMB last for one to two years. … Under this Escrow provision, seafarers will have to wait for so many years for the Court of Appeals and later on the Supreme Court to review the case,” Migrante said.

"This is a discrimination against seafarers violative of the equal protection clause of the Constitution," the group added.

During discussions of the bill, lawmakers said extending the period of validation and payment of claims could deter the practice of ambulance chasing, or the act of soliciting from seafarers the pursuit of any claim against their employers for financial gain.

Brosas said this provision was inserted in the bill only during the final reading. She made this statement after voting against the measure.

“Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo (What will we do with the grass if the horse is dead)? This provision is cruel because (seafarers) don’t have the money to handle appeals from capitalists in the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. We should not burden maritime workers with wrong decisions by the NLRC,” Brosas said.

This makes the final “compromised” version of the magna carta protective of “the corporate greed of manning agencies and foreign shipowners exploiting the country’s seafarers,” added Migrante.

Migrante warned that the inclusion of the escrow provision in the magna carta for seafarers could also threaten other overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who want to file labor claims.

“If they can violate the Labor Code of the Philippines this time by imposing an Escrow against seafarers, what would prevent the manning agencies and the local businesses to impose this Escrow on all OFWs and all Filipino workers here and abroad?” the group said.
Fisherfolk as seafarers

Migrante also criticized the bill for excluding fisherfolk from the protections accorded to seafarers, arguing that fisherfolk are already entitled to the same rights as seafarers under Philippine Overseas Employment Administration guidelines.

The group said fishers were also “the ones who suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic and who are most exploited and abused,” making their exclusion from the Magna Carta a “diminution” of their rights.

Brosas said the final version passed by the lower chamber had excluded the “two main demands” weaved into the original version of the bill she authored: the inclusion of fishing vessels and the provision of security of tenure for seafarers with one year experience.

“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 added.

The Magna Carta for Seafarers is among the priority measures of the Marcos administration through the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.

Rep. Ron Salo (Kabayan Partylist), chairperson of the overseas workers affairs committee, said in a statement on March 8 that the bill would speed up seafarer's labor claims and entitle them to help from the Public Attorney's Office for legal assistance.