Philippines Overseas Workers Committee approves “Magna Carta of Filipino seafarers”

Filipino SeafarersThe Philippines has taken a crucial step toward implementing protections for seafarers. The House of Representatives’ committee on overseas workers approved the “Magna Carta of Filipino seafarers” legislation, which ensures living and working conditions are in line with Philippine law and global maritime conventions. If approved, the law would apply to Filipino seafarers working on domestic or international Philippines-registered vessels. Filipino seafarers working on foreign-registered ships would also be protected under the law. The move comes after several calls for the government to implement better protections for sea-based workers.

In June 2016, Senator Loren Legarda said there is an urgent need to implement strong and consistent legislation to tackle the issues in the maritime industry.

“Various policies to protect the welfare of our seafarers are scattered in numerous existing laws. This indicates a need for a more comprehensive legislation that will cover all these provisions, while at the same time complying with international maritime standards”, Legarda said in a statement. “We need to establish the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers that would guarantee their right to humane working conditions and just compensation through ensuring that manning and crewing agencies provide adequate information about on-board conditions as well as local and international laws that apply to the Filipino seafarer”, she added.

Legarda says special legislation is required for sea-based workers, as programs and policies designed for migrant workers only cover land-based workers.

The committee, led by Mariano Michael Velarde, Jr. of the Buhay Party, approved the bill.

The Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers states that sea-based workers have a right to a secure and safe workplace that complies with Philippine safety standards. Workers also have a right to: medical care; decent on-board living and working conditions; fair terms and conditions of employment, including a salary that corresponds to their rank; a minimum number of working hours; and periods of rest that are consistent with international or domestic maritime conventions.

The bill protects seafarers against gender, race, political or religious discrimination; provides legal representation to those who cannot afford it; and allows workers to engage in collective bargaining.

Seafarers will also have the right to have access to communication, including telephone, email and internet facilities where available.
If approved, manning agencies will be prohibited from charging a placement fee and will need to be licensed.

The provisions in the Magna Carta bill coincide with a study that shows fatigue, homesickness and work safety issues were the primary challenges faced by sea-based Filipino workers.

The critics of the bill say that while sea-based workers will receive important protections, local shipowners will be adversely affected. The legislation would require shipowners to develop new safety and work standards on their ships, which may be cost prohibitive for some. Higher salary standards may put some shipowners out of business, which may threaten the local shipping industry, critics say.

Filipino seafarers account for 229,000 of the 1.5 million of the seafarers worldwide, equivalent to about a quarter of sea-based workers. Sea-based workers in 2016 contributed more than 5 billion USD to the Philippine economy.