The House of Representatives wants to clothe the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) and other agencies concerned with enough powers to better protect our estimated 700,000 seafarers in either foreign-flagged ships or Philippine-registered vessels operating internationally, to ensure they have full labor protection from the time of their  training and recruitment up to their retirement from the profession, according to Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte.

With the government now expecting the hiring of more Filipino seafarers following the move by the European Commission (EC) to extend its recognition of seafarers’ certificates issued in the Philippines, Villafuerte said there is more reason for our senators to consider the pending Senate version of this House-approved bill on better protection for our sailors in foreign-flagged ships. 

Villafuerte said HB 7325 directs the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to give “paramount importance to the safety and well-being of Filipino seafarers,” by providing adequate and timely intervention and assistance, such as representing their interests with foreign authorities concerned and facilitating their repatriation when they are distressed or beleaguered.

Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Secretary Susan Ople expects a surge in demand for Filipino mariners not only in the European Union (EU) but in other parts of the world as well, as this EU decision is a “vote of confidence in the Philippines and in the quality of training, education and certification of our seafarers.” 

Villafuerte explained that one of the measures that the House had approved on third and final reading in the last session month prior to its March 25-May 7 summer break was House Bill (HB) No. 7325 that seeks to provide “full protection” to Filipino sailors before, during and after their employment, especially in cases of maritime accidents, epidemics or pandemics, and natural or man-made crises.  

The bigger chamber passed by a 304-4 vote in March HB 7325, or the “Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers,” that also aims to further sharpen the global competitiveness of our sought-after mariners by levelling up the country’s maritime education, training, certification and licensing system.

“Our country is recognized as the world’s largest source of seafarers, with an estimated 700,000 working foreign-flagged or locally-registered seagoing vessels. In 2019, it was recorded that there were 380,000 Filipino seafarers overseas,” said Villafuerte, one of the authors of HB 2269 that was consolidated with the House-approved HB 7325.

The president of the National Unity Party (NUP), Villafuerte  said the Congress needs to write new legislation on better labor protection for Filipino seafarers, given their contribution to the domestic economy with  their remittances, which totalled $12.8 billion over the 2019-2020 period.  

“Unlike other OFWs, overseas-based Filipino seafarers face unique challenges attached to their movement from international waters to different ports of call in various countries. Thus, the laws protecting them can be vague and elusive, making them highly vulnerable to illegal recruitment and other forms of work-related abuses,” he said.  

To ensure the full protection of our mariners, Villafuerte explained that  the House-passed bill requires shipowners to forge standard employment contracts (SECs) with their hired Filipino sailors, and mandates the prior review and approval by the DMW of such SECs to ensure that the contract stipulations adhere to all the seafarers’ rights, as provided for in HB 7325.

HB 7325 provides further, he said, that the DMW Secretary, or his or her duly authorized representative, shall have access to both foreign-registered ships and Philippine-registered vessels operating internationally, for the purpose of “conducting inspection to ensure compliance with working and living standards of seafarers as provided under this Act.”

Villafuerte explained that the DMW’s enforcement and compliance monitoring activities may be coordinated and conducted by this Department with the relevant government agencies, including the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), in conjunction with their schedules for inspection and certification.

Recognized organizations may be authorized by the DMW Secretary to conduct the inspection of ship premises and issue the Maritime Labor Certificate or the Certificate of Compliance, as appropriate, in accordance with the provisions of this Act and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), he said.

Ople is the founder of the Blas Ople Policy Center that assists distressed OFWs all over the world.

Villafuerte, who is majority leader of the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA) that screens presidential appointees, endorsed last year in a CA committee hearing the confirmation of Ople’s nomination by President Marcos as his  DMW Secretary.

Ople’s appointment  was later approved on the same day by the CA en banc during its plenary session. 

Villafuerte said HB 7325 directs the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to give “paramount importance to the safety and well-being of Filipino seafarers,” by providing adequate and timely intervention and assistance, such as representing their interests with foreign authorities concerned and facilitating their repatriation when they are distressed or beleaguered.

As for the DOLE, he said the bill wants this Department to ensure that Presidential Decree (PD) No. 442 or the Labor Code, as amended, and other applicable laws, international conventions, executive issuances, rules and regulations are fairly applied to seafarers who are on board ships operating domestically.

He said the proposed Act directs the Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration (OWWA) to establish seafarer welfare facilities or centers in major crew-change ports, specifically in Metro Manila, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Cavite, Batangas, Iloilo, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and other areas deemed by the OWWA to have a higher concentration of mariners.

It requires, too, the establishment of One-Stop Shops in these proposed welfare centers, which shall be manned by representatives from government agencies that process or issue licenses, permits, clearances, and other documents required by mariners, “ for the convenience of these  seafarers and to maximize the services being offered to them.”

Villafuerte said that with the Philippines’ ratification of the 2006 Maritime Labor Convention, “It is high time for the 19th Congress to write new legislation, in addition to our existing labor laws, in order for us to adhere to internationally recognized instruments such as those from the ILO (International Labor Organization) and IMO (International Maritime Organization.”

“Hence, HB 7325  aims to uphold and advance the rights and welfare of  Filipino seafarers in accordance with the Maritime Labor Convention,” he said. “It shall serve as a guide from the training and recruitment of Filipino seafarers up to their retirement.”

Under HB 7325, Filipino seafarers have a right to a 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 and medical care, self-organization, free legal representation and information about their respective families.

They also have the right under the House-passed bill against discrimination; and access to educational advancement and training, communication and relevant information, appropriate grievance mechanisms, fair treatment in the event of a maritime accident, and fair medical assessment.

HB 7325 entitles seafarers to adequate compensation in cases of injury, loss or unemployment arising from the ship’s loss or foundering, in accordance with the SEC or, if applicable,  the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the employer and employees.

Villafuerte said the bill discusses in detail the protection mechanisms for seafarers in cases of epidemics or pandemics, maritime accidents or other crises, which entitles them to full compensation.

At the same time, HB 7325  lists the duties and responsibilities of seafarers as well as of shipowners and manning agencies.

The proposed  Act shall not cover seafarers on board warships and naval auxiliaries, government ships not engaged in commercial operations, ships of traditional build as may be defined under existing rules and regulations, and Fishing vessels.

In cases of accidents or death onboard and offshore, piracy and other similar incidents, Villafuerte said the bill states that the seafarer’s family must be immediately informed of the action taken or to be taken, including investigations conducted by the shipowner or manning agency. 

It is also the duty of the shipowner or manning agency under HB 7325 to report these incidents to the DMW and OWWA.

The bill provides for the adequate consultation of seafarers and other  maritime industry stakeholders on matters affecting the sailors and their families before any maritime policy, executive issuance, rule or regulation is promulgated, or before any new maritime law is enacted.

Seafarers  have the right under the bill  not to be discriminated against by reason of their race, sex, religion, age or political opinion; and that career opportunities shall be promoted and that the appropriate working and living conditions be guaranteed equally among male and female seafarers.

The bill provides that seafarers  who are victims of violations of the provisions of this Act or of their SECs and who cannot afford the services of a competent and independent counsel, have the right to free legal representation, assistance, and counselling by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), and to fair and speedy disposition of their cases, including the expeditious settlement of any money claims, subject to existing laws, rules and regulations.

HB 7325 likewise ensures the seafarers’ right  to immediate and adequate medical services, medicines, and medical supplies onboard, and access to shore-based medical facilities for their protection, along with their  access to the corresponding medical or trained personnel who shall provide them with first-aid and medical care, pursuant to the Maritime Occupational Safety and Health guidelines.

Among the provisions of the Villafuerte-authored HB 2269 that were incorporated into HB 7325  are the details that should be contained in the mandatory SECs or work agreements to be entered into by shipowners with  their hired Filipino seafarers.

These SEC details are, among others, the duration or period of employment or engagement; salary rate and the formula used for calculating it; hours of work and hours of rest; wage-related benefits such as overtime pay, holiday pay, premium pay, paid leaves, and 13th month pay, if applicable.

The health, social security and welfare benefits; entitlement to repatriation or similar undertakings, separation pay and retirement pay, if applicable; and reference to the CBA, if applicable, are also required to be listed down in the SEC.

As proposed, too,  in HB 2269 and incorporated into HB 7325, the SEC shall be written in English or in a working language of the seafarer; and shall stipulate that Filipino seafarers be granted shore leave to benefit their health and well-being, consistent with the operational requirements of their positions, and subject to proportionate and specifically-adopted measures by the port state on epidemics, pandemics and other public health emergencies, man-made or natural.

HB 7325 also keeps the provisions of HB 2269 that stipulates the normal hours of work of a seafarer be limited to 8 hours a day; and that if the seafarer is made to work beyond 8 hours, the maximum hours of work shall not exceed 14 hours in any 24-hour period, and 72 hours in any 7-day period.

The House-passed bill also contains HB 2269’s provisions that the minimum hours of rest for every seafarer shall not be less than 10 hours; and that such hours  of rest may be divided into no more than 2 periods, one of which shall be at least 6 hours in length, and the interval between consecutive periods of rest shall not exceed 14 hours.

Another provision of HB 2269 contained in HB 7325 is the one on the right of seafarers to be repatriated or sent home for free by their shipowner-employers.

Free repatriation for sailors apply if their SECs expire while they are still abroad, or when these employment contracts are terminated by the shipowners or by the seafarers themselves for justified reasons.

In case the repatriation is undertaken by the government, whether by the DMW, OWWA or DFA, the manning agency or ship-owner or the insurance company, shall immediately reimburse the cost to the appropriate government agency, without prejudice to any sanctions that may be imposed against the manning agency or shipowner or the insurance company for any violation of its obligation to repatriate the seafarer.

The House-passed bill states that unless a higher annual leave is provided under the CBA, or by the shipowner as company practice or policy, or by the SEC, seafarers shall be paid an annual leave to be calculated on the basis of a minimum of 2.5 calendar days per month of employment.

Filipino seafarers who have contracted any illness because of an epidemic, pandemic or any other public health emergency, whether natural or man-made, or are under quarantine or self-isolation, are entitled to paid sick leave or sickness benefits, but only if they are incapacitated or unable to work.

In case a seafarer or the seafarer’s successor-in-interest, files for a claim for unpaid salaries and other statutory monetary benefits, or those arising from disability or death, Villafuerte said that HB 7325 gives  the shipowner-employer or the manning agency 15 days from the submission of the claim, proof or complete documents, as the case may be, to determine the validity of the claim. 

The results of the validation by the employer or manning agency shall be communicated to the seafarer within that 15-day period, he said, and the employer or manning agency shall, within 15 days from the time it has communicated to the seafarer its findings, settle its obligations to the seafarer.

This provision also applies, he said,  to the claims of a seafarer or the seafarer’s successors-in- interest, arising from accidental death, natural death, or permanent disability benefits under Republic Act (RA) 8042, or the   Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995,” as amended by RA 10022.

The DFA said in a statement that the extension of the EC’s recognition of Philippine-issued seafarers’ certificates “comes with conditions for the Philippines to meet and comply with its commitments to improve the process and implementation of the  Philippine maritime education, training and certification (METC) system.”

“The Philippine Government will continue to work towards elevating the METC system to the highest standard, and ensure the best possible employment opportunities for Filipino seafarers, on domestic or foreign flag vessels,” the DFA added.

Villafuerte recalled that before the EC’s decision, President Marcos had issued a directive on improving   the education, training and certification system for Filipino sailors.

This, after the EU  pointed out the country for deficiencies in local seafaring training that could affect the jobs of about 50,000 Filipino sailors in EU-flagged vessels.

Mr. Marcos had ordered the creation of an advisory board  to address the EU-identified deficiencies, and met with  EC President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, Belgium last December  to explain the Philippines’ efforts to comply with the standards of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) standards.

The President  said that Von der Leyen had promised that the EC would provide technical help to the Philippines so Manila can “remedy all of the deficiencies that EMSA has been pointing out” within three months.



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