The Philippines' House of Representatives committee on overseas workers has approved the “Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers” bill designed to ensure working and living conditions that are consistent with Philippine law and international maritime conventions.
Led by Buhay Party lawmaker Mariano Maichael Velarde, Jr., the committee approved the bill, and if passed into law, it will be applied to Filipino seafarers engaged, employed or working on board Philippines-registered ships operating domestically or internationally, as well as those on board foreign-registered ships.
The Magna Carta states that seafarers have the right to safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards; decent working and living conditions on board a ship; medical care, welfare measures and other forms of health and social protection; and fair terms and conditions of employment including salary commensurate to their rank, minimum number of working hours, and rest periods consistent with Philippine or international maritime conventions.
The bill also provides for seafarers' rights to engage in collective bargaining; access to educational advancement and training at reasonable and affordable costs; relevant information, including the terms and conditions of employment and company policies affecting seafarers. It protects them against discrimination based on race, sex, religion and political opinion and provides for free legal representation for victims of violations who cannot afford legal representation.
Additionally, seafarers will have the right to expect access to communication such as ship-to-shore telephone communications, and email and internet facilities, where available. Seafarers will be entitled to repatriation at the cost of the shipowner, under the bill.
Manning agencies will have to be licensed and will not be allowed to charge a placement fee.
The proposed bill coincided with recent study findings that homesickness, fatigues and work safety issues have become the top work-related challenges for Filipino seafarers.
While the proposed bill could be beneficial for Filipino seafarers, some in the industry believe it could also pose a threat to domestic shipowners. Captain Allan Bayabos of Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, a Filipino, told MarEx that while he agrees that it will benefit the seafarers employed by both local and international shipping companies, the new law if passed, would have adverse effect to most local shipowners.
Bayabos, who has worked at sea for 22 years in both local and international shipping, added that when the law is passed, shipowners will have to invest heavily to develop new work and safety standards on their vessels.
“Shipowners in the domestic or inter-island market could be hurt if seafarer salaries are raised or standardized,” Bayabos said. He predicts that, in the long run, small shipping companies might close down if they fail to sustain the prescribed provisions of the new law. This could be a significant threat to the locally-owned shipping industry, he said.
Bayabos expressed doubts about how effectively the new law could be implemented in practice, and Master Mariner Abdel Aziz Kalbi agrees. He told MarEx that while the proposed Magna Carta is beneficial for Filipino seafarers, he doubts that all of its provisions could be properly implemented.
“There are existing public policies to protect and promote the welfare of seafarers, but the truth is, a number of shipping companies especially local shipping players lack the capability to implement,” Kalbi said.
Captain Joel Inovejas of Southfield Agencies Incorporated told MarEx that the scope of the proposed Magna Carta is still unclear, and he suggest proponents of the law should conduct further study.
There are at least 229,000 Filipino seafarers employed on shipping vessels around the world at any given time, a quarter of the 1.5 million seafarers worldwide. Last year alone, seafarers contributed $5.5 billion to the Philippine economy through their remittances.