12 MAR 2023 

The Philippines’ House of Representatives this week overwhelmingly voted for a new bill seeking to protect the rights and interests of Filipino seafarers. The law called Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers sets out labor protection terms for seafarers before, during, and after employment, especially in the event of maritime accidents, epidemics or pandemics, or other natural or man-made crises.

The new law came in response to the challenges the Philippines experienced during the pandemic when many seafarers found themselves stranded at sea. It, however, also comes at a time when the Philippines has been under pressure to improve both the welfare and training standards for its seafarers. The European Maritime Safety Agency provided a report to the European Commission citing numerous deficiencies in the training with reports that the EU was considering a ban on the future employment of Filipino seafarers unless the issues were addressed.

The new government of the Philippines has reported that it is working to improve the working and training conditions. The industry also announced a partnership to help support efforts to address the concerns for Filipino seafarers.

The new law covers seafarers “employed or working on board foreign-registered ships and Philippine-registered ships operating internationally.” Those onboard warships, government ships, or any other vessel not engaged in commercial operations are exempt.

The Philippines is one of the world’s leading suppliers of seafarers and during the pandemic, the government was challenged to bring people home from around the globe. By current estimates, approximately 700,000 Filipinos are deployed on domestic and foreign-flagged seagoing vessels, forming over a quarter of all global merchant shipping crew.

The health, safety, security, and welfare of most seafarers were compromised the lawmakers said during the pandemic. In addition, to the challenges created during the pandemic, Filipino seafarers are reported to have also borne the brunt of sea slavery. Specifically, long-haul fishing is cited as being notorious for crew exploitation and deplorable living conditions.

The new bill approved by the Philippines’ parliament seeks to ensure basic rights for seafarers and address some of the issues from the past few years. Among the rights they are emphasizing is ensuring a seafarer’s access to information about their family, access to communication, free legal representation, and educational advancement and training. The law requires that the standard employment contract signed by seafarers before boarding a vessel shall be reviewed and approved by the Department of Migrant Workers to ensure that the contract adheres to the rights of seafarers as stipulated by the law.

The bill further states, “if affected by a pandemic or epidemic, seafarers should be entitled to medical care, board and lodgings for periods spent by a seafarer in quarantine or self-isolation. Seafarers should also be entitled to adequate compensation in the case of injury, loss or unemployment arising from a ship’s loss or foundering, in accordance with the employment agreement or the collective bargaining agreement.”

The Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration is also mandated to establish seafarers’ welfare facilities in major crew-change ports. The bill says that “A One-Stop-Shop for seafarers, which shall have representatives from government agencies that process or issue licenses, permits, clearance and other documents required by seafarers, shall be established in these welfare centers for the convenience and to maximize services offered to seafarers.”

In addition to the new law, organizations representing seafarers, shipowners, and other maritime employers signed a memorandum of understanding with the Philippines’s Department of Migrant Workers at the beginning of the year to form an International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs.  The committee will work to ensure proper training systems for Filipinos and to address concerns regarding labor practices impacting the seafarers.

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