The chairman of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs assured labor groups on Thursday that the House-approved Magna Carta of Seafarers bill is designed to protect seafarers.
House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs Chairman Ron Salo told the BusinessMirror that the magna carta bill seeks to advance the welfare of all Filipino seafarers on ships plying international and domestic maritime routes.
Recently, groups of seafarers appealed to Congress to delete the escrow provision in the Magna Carta of Seafarers bill, which they described to be “anti-seaman, anti-labor and pro-manning contrary to the intent of the bill which is to protect seafarers.”
Amor Seaman, Federation of Free Workers (FFW), National Associations of Trade Unions (NATU), All Filipino Workers Confederation (AFWC), Philippine Association of Migrant Workers (PAMWA) said the escrow provision of the bill will “burden disabled seaman and family of deceased seaman.”
“The escrow provision provides that the disability/death benefits adjudged by labor courts will only be released after final disposition of cases by higher courts which can take seven or more years based on studies,” the groups said in a statement sent to the BusinessMirror.
But Salo said, “I would respectfully like to dispel the misconception and the misinformation that the escrow provision will burden seafarers and their families. The escrow provision is included in the Magna Carta precisely to protect seafarers and their families.”
“As the provision is crafted, all salaries, benefits, and other entitlements legally due to seafarers will be immediately released upon determination by the labor arbiter or the NLRC (National Labor Relations Commission). What is to be placed in the escrow are only those contested amounts or discretionary awards such as awards of moral or exemplary damages,” said the lawmaker.
Salo explained that “consequently, when the manning agency or employers appeal such an award by the NLRC and is eventually reversed, only the seafarers are left to shoulder the amount being sought by the court to be returned. Thus, the hapless seafarers are forced to mortgage their homes or loan huge amounts in order to return the usurious awards. This is precisely the situation we are seeking to address.”
Under the House-approved bill, any monetary award by the arbitrator to the seafarer, or the seafarer’s successors-in-interest, made whether in a voluntary or mandatory arbitration, or by the NLRC shall be places in escrow of the employer or manning agency.
The amount in escrow shall not include claims for salaries, statutory monetary benefits, or those originally determined by the employer or manning agency to be legally due to the seafarer.
The amount shall remain in escrow until the issuance of any entry of judgment by the appropriate reviewing court or when the employer or manning agency fails to perfect the appeal or petition for review. The fees in obtaining or maintaining the escrow account shall be paid by the employer or the manning agency.
The interest earned by the amount in escrow shall insure to the benefit of the prevailing party. However, the seafarer or the seafarer’s successors-in- interest may, in accordance with the Rules of Court, move for the execution of the monetary award pending appeal upon posting of a bond, the amount of which shall be determined by the appropriate court.
Image credits: Nonie Reyes