The House committee on overseas workers has approved a substitute bill proposing a “Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers,” which aims to improve seafarers’ working conditions, terms of employment and career prospects, and to uplift the socio-economic well-being of their families.
The committee chaired by Rep. Mariano Michael Velarde, Jr. (Party-list, Buhay) approved the unnumbered bill, which substituted HBs 78, 457, 574, 1356, 4360 and 4525.
The bill covers Filipino seafarers engaged, employed, or working in any capacity on board Philippine registered ships operating domestically or internationally, as well as those on board foreign registered ships.
It does not cover the following categories of ships: 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.
The “Magna Carta” provides that seafarers shall have the right to a 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, hours of work, basis for wage computation, minimum number of working hours, and rest period consistent with Philippine laws or international maritime conventions, when applicable.
The bill also provides for seafarers’ rights to self-organization; engage in collective bargaining; participate in democratic exercises; 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; consultation before adopting any maritime policy, executive issuance, rule or regulation affecting seafarers and their families which is promulgated, or before any maritime law that may directly affect them is enacted; against discrimination by sole reason of race, sex, religion and political opinion; free legal representation for those who are victims of violations of the provisions of the Act and who cannot afford the services of a competent and independent counsel; and access to communication such as ship-to-shore telephone communications, and email and internet facilities, where available, especially during their free time or when they are not on duty.
The bill likewise provides that only duly licensed manning or placement and recruitment agencies shall be allowed to operate and engage in the recruitment and placement of seafarers, in accordance with the rules and regulations as may be issued by the Secretary of Labor and Employment.
In addition, no amount or fee shall be charged to the seafarer for their recruitment and placement.
The bill provides that there shall be a standard agreement in writing between the shipowner and the seafarer. The agreement shall be in a working language or in English, executed in three original copies before the start of the employment. The shipowner and the seafarer shall each have a signed original of the agreement. A signed original shall be made available on-board the ship.
For seafarers on-board foreign registered ships, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration – Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC) approved by the DOLE shall be observed.
Trainees, probationary crew members, and other similarly situated shall be paid full minimum wage in accordance with the services rendered. Cadets, on-the-job trainees, apprentices and other similarly situated persons who are onboard vessels as part of the completion of their academic or training program, shall be provided with stipends or allowances, which should not be less than 50 percent of the existing minimum wage of regular seafarers.
It also specifies work hours, annual leaves, benefits and incentives for the seafarer.
It likewise requires the shipowner to provide adequate equipment, paraphernalia and medical supplies, including medicines on board. The shipwner also shall ensure access to shore facilities for the health of seafarers, as well as the corresponding medical or trained personnel who shall provide first-aid and medical care pursuant to the Maritime Occupational Safety and Health Standards and other pertinent laws, rules and regulations.
Moreover, the shipowner shall ensure that seafarers have access to treatment for sickness or injury, hospitalization and dental treatment.
Furthermore, seafarers shall be entitled to repatriation at the cost of the shipowner, under the bill. In cases of war, epidemics, abandonment of ships by shipowners, disasters, calamities, natural or manmade, and other similar events, the Department of Foreign Affairs, in coordination with the POEA and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), shall undertake the repatriation of seafarers. The POEA shall require manning agencies to effect repatriation of the seafarers within 48 hours or face suspension order.
Lastly, the shipowner and master, as acting shipowner’s representative, shall be made principally liable for any violation of the provisions of the Act and its implementing rules and regulations.