Over a decade has passed since we first filed the bill pushing for the institutionalization of a Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers. It was way back in July of 2007 when I was in my second term as the Representative of the Province of Aurora when we filed the bill and since then, we have consistently filed this measure with the hope that this will finally be passed and our seafarers will receive the protection and benefits that they deserve as the backbone of the global maritime industry.
In 2022, there were close to half a million Filipino seafarers deployed, representing 25 percent of all seafarers around the world. With such a significant presence in the global maritime industry, we must ensure that the rights and privileges, as provided for under international conventions and local laws, are provided to them, no matter what the circumstance.
Just before Congress adjourned its sessions on September 29, 2023, we in the Senate approved the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers on third and final reading. The House of Representatives had already approved its own version of the measure on March 6, 2023 and now we will just await the convening of the bicameral conference committee to thresh out the differences between the two bills and come out with a unified version. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. certified the bill as urgent and with this we are optimistic that we will finally see this long overdue bill become a law.
The bill enumerates the rights of seafarers as follows: Right to just terms and conditions of work; Right to self-organization and to collective bargaining; Right to educational advancement and training at reasonable and affordable costs; Right to information; Right to information of a seafarer’s family or next of kin; Right to safe passage and safe travel; Right to consultation; Right against discrimination; Right to free legal representation; Right to immediate medical attention; Right to access to communication; Right to record of employment or certificate of employment; and the Right to fair treatment in the event of a maritime accident. For women in the maritime industry, the bill ensures that they are protected against acts of discrimination.
It states the duties of a seafarer, which includes complying with and observing the terms and conditions of one’s employment contract and being diligent in the performance of one’s duties relating to the ship. Except for cadets, the minimum age for employment or engagement to work onboard Philippine-registered ships operating domestically or internationally and onboard foreign-registered ships shall be 18 years old.
Seafarers are required to secure a medical certificate issued by a DOH-accredited medical facility after undergoing a pre-employment medical examination before they are allowed to start employment onboard a domestic or ocean-going ship. Only seafarers certified by appropriate government agencies according to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers will be allowed to work onboard a ship.
To protect the seafarers from possible exploitation, only duly licensed manning agencies shall be allowed to operate and engage in the recruitment and placement of seafarers, following existing laws, rules and regulations. A standard employment contract between the shipowner and the overseas seafarer shall be in writing and shall include information such as the duration of contract; maximum hours of work and minimum hours of rest; benefits; compensation and benefits for occupational injury, illness or death; separation and retirement pay.
Normal work hours shall be eight hours a day with one rest day per week and they are entitled to paid annual leaves. Ships are required to have fair, effective and expeditious onboard and onshore grievance or complaint resolution mechanisms that are readily accessible.
As necessary, repatriation of seafarers shall be borne by the shipowners or the manning agencies. In cases of epidemic or pandemic, the shipowner or manning agency shall be responsible for the expenses of medical care, board and lodging for periods spent by seafarers in self-isolation or quarantine.
Seafarer welfare centers will be established by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in major crew-change ports to cater to the various needs of seafarers. The Department of Migrant Workers and MARINA will be required to maintain a registry of all seafarers, which will contain updated and relevant information to promote employment opportunities for seafarers, whether on board or ashore.
Seafarers deal with circumstances very different from mainstream or land-based OFWs and other sectors within the labor force. Once the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers becomes law, our men at sea will finally be ensured of treatment that befits their important status as the foundation of global shipping and logistics.
Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 19 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 10 as Senator. He has authored, co-authored, and sponsored more than 330 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.
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