Filipino Seafarers Lobbying for Recognition

Seafarers are essential workers.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the contribution of Filipino seafarers to both the domestic and global economies.  This fact has given traction to the efforts to legally protect the seafaring profession.  

By Liz Lagniton, Philippine correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade

For years, maritime industry stakeholders have been pushing for the passage of a legislation that would recognize the role of seafarers in the growth of the Philippine economy and the global maritime industry.

“The Philippines produces the most seafarers globally, making Filipinos the most sought-after nationality because of their communication skills, diligence, and competence. And yet, Filipino seafarers are one of the most under-represented and unrecognized groups in the country,” congressman Sandro Gonzales of the Marino Party List told Maritime Fairtrade. 

Gonzales is among those campaigning for a Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, a proposed legislation that has recently gained ground because of the recent events that showed seafarers’ unique role in the global supply chain and in the economies around the world.

Given the developments over almost three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gonzales explained the need to recognize the rights of land-based and sea-based mariners to just terms and conditions of work, self-organization, educational advancement and training at a reasonable and affordable cost, free legal consultation, and access to communication facilities.

“Being OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), they are also often being taken advantage of by shipping companies, manning agencies, medical clinics, and other agencies,” he added citing that “of the 1.5 million seafarers in the world, 25 percent are Filipinos.”

Congressman Sandro Gonzales of the Marino Party List. Image credit: Marino Party List.

A proposed law to protect seafarers

With the Magna Carta, the rights of Filipino seafarers will be protected. Under this proposed law, ship owners and manning agencies are responsible for all repatriation costs including basic wages, allowances, decent accommodation, transportation, quarantine, and medical expenses.

Seafarers have remained essential amid the pandemic as they power the shipping industry that connects countries to vital medical supplies and keeps the global economy afloat.

However, despite the crucial role these sea-based workers play, they sometimes go without any support to handle the extraordinary challenges they face in the new normal.

The proposed law, which is in the Philippine legislative mill, acknowledges their right against discrimination; their right to be protected against all forms of harassment and bullying; and the right to secure a record of employment or certificate of employment; right to fair treatment in the event of a maritime accident; and the right to free legal representation.

According to Gonzalez, the bill was approved by the House of Representatives on January 18, 2021, but is still under consideration in the Senate, and is awaiting its third and final reading.

“After that, there may be a bicameral conference where members from the House and the Senate will sit together to finalize the bill. After this joint committee discussion, it will be forwarded to the president of the Philippines for final approval.”

Stranded Filipino seafarers abroad

As of this writing, Gonzales said nearly 8,000 Filipino seafarers remain stranded in various ports all over the world due to airport travel restrictions. He said many flights were canceled due to pandemic, which left seafarers stuck in their assigned vessels beyond reasonable tours of duty.

He said he has already spoken to the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and Department of Transportation Secretary Art Tugade about the need to help ease restrictions at local airports and to get the stranded seafarers home.

“Thousands have been repatriated and still, many more are being deployed. When the industry is under crisis, this is the right timing for its organizing agencies to structure and learn how to protect and treat fairly seafarers from the Philippines,” the lawmaker said.

The Philippines is the top country in supplying seafarers globally. Image credit: Philippine Maritime Industry Authority. 

More job security for seafarers

Gonzales said when the Magna Carta is signed into law, Filipino sailors will not only have more safety and security at work but it will also encourage more newcomers to join the industry, thereby enhancing the economic potential of the Philippines and other countries.

“When they are well-protected and treated fairly, this would mean more security and stability for seafarers in the industry, attracting newbies into the field. This situation supports the Philippine economy, as OFWs keep our economy afloat during the pandemic,” he added.

According to Gonzalez, the four important factors to consider when the bill is passed are:

  • Seafarers can avail of their financial assistance through loans;
  • Seafarers will be protected against discrimination during the hiring process;
  • Through compassionate reasons such as death/illness in the family, seafarers can now have the right to go home and be with their loved ones, especially those affected by the virus;
  • With the establishment of shore-based facilities, seafarers who are fatigued or overworked can have their health and welfare taken care of as they seek rest and recovery.

When the Philippine government started its vaccination rollout in March 2020, the Marino Party List was among the organizations that aggressively pushed for seafarers’ vaccination to be on the COVID-19 priority list.

“Because seafarers are essential global workers, we pushed for their priority vaccination category,” Gonzalez said.

“Aside from securing their free vaccination with the government through the help of Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), we are also pushing for the efficient release of their passports from Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and their international certificates of vaccination (ICV) from the Bureau of Quarantine (BoQ). All these are crucial for their deployment abroad,” he said.

Representing the interest of Filipino seafarers

While Marino Party List’s job is to legislate bills into law, throughout the pandemic, the group has also been protecting seafarers’ right to livelihood.

“During the start of the pandemic, we fought for the inclusion of seafarers in the financial assistance and relief goods of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). In partnership with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), we are also offering temporary jobs and skills training for seafarers and their family members,” Gonzalez said.

Moreover, the lawmaker said they also helped seafarers who were evicted from dormitories due to non-payment of rent, by talking with the dorm owners to extend the lease while the former process their employment papers.

For his part, Marina administrator Robert Empedrad also urged the swift passage of the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers hoping it will soon become law.

“The provisions of the Magna Carta are good. Our seafarers will benefit from it. That’s for them. I hope the Magna Carta will soon become law because it’s been a long time. So, we’re happy that the proposed bill is now moving forward,” Empedrad said.

Image credit: Pinoy Seafarers Story/ FB

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Liz Lagniton

Liz Lagniton

Liz Lagniton, our Philippine correspondent, is based in Manila. She is a former journalist for The Manila Times. She has an interest in writing feature stories to bring out the human interest to readers.

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