The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) said that the escrow/fiduciary deposit provision in the Magna Carta for Seafarers does not favor or protect the welfare of the seafarers.
The escrow provision aimed to amend the Labor Code will have adverse significant impact on the “immediately final and executory” nature of decisions issued by NLRC and the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB). The contested amounts shall remain in escrow/fiduciary deposit until such time the finality of the decision issued by the appropriate appellate court is obtained.
During the interpellations for Senate Bill 2221 from August 23 to September 11, 2023, Senator Raffy Tulfo made assurances to seafarers that the Senate version will not include the escrow provision. There was also no mention of its inclusion during the period of amendment from September 25 to 27, 2023.
The Senate approved the measure on second and third reading on September 27, 2023 without the escrow provision. The bill was approved with 14 votes, no negative vote, and no abstention.
The House of Representatives earlier approved on March 6, 2023 its version of the Magna Carta (House Bill 7325) that contains the escrow provision.
The bicameral conference committee will soon meet to settle, reconcile and thresh out differences or disagreements on any provision of the bill that each chamber has approved.
In a position paper submitted to the Senate, the NLRC said that the “rider” provision would only subject the Magna Carta to the filing of a needless suit for its invalidity on the ground of unconstitutionality.
“While such is pending, it may suspend the effectivity of the law and render inutile all the laudable provisions beneficial to and immediately needed by our seafarers,” the NLRC said.
The NLRC noted that since any disability or death benefit claims could properly be the subject as “disputed amount,” then this would place the seafarers at a disadvantaged position compared to other types or workers.
The said amount shall pertain to the disability benefits that the seafarer can use for treatment or just for survival, in case of permanent disability.
The NLRC emphasized that it would only be the seafarers who would not be able to execute the judgment award for death claim or disability benefits in their favor upon the finality of the NLRC decision pending certiorari by the respondent-shipping companies to the Court of Appeals.
The escrow provision violates the constitutional guarantee on equal protection since it will partake of the nature of class legislation because it singles out seafarer claims from other labor claims, both local and overseas.
An overseas Filipino worker money claims case will take an average of 7.2 years to go through the entire judicial process from the date of filing of the complaint in the NLRC up to the time the Supreme Court decides on it.
The seafarer will wait for longer years before they receive the NLRC/NCMB award if the proposed escrow provision will be included.
Without any leverage in prosecuting his monetary claims, chances are, the seafarer bows to the demand of his employer to either drop his claim or accept a small settlement.
“This is not fair,” the NLRC said, adding that there is no justification for the proposed provision.
The NLRC also said that to require the seafarer or the seafarer’s successors-in-interest to move for the execution of the monetary award pending appeal upon posting of a bond to ensure full restitution, is burdensome for the seafarers who are unemployed by reason of their disability or their successors-in-interest who have been dependent on the former for sustenance.
“Guided by the constitutional mandate, we believe that the proposed provision will not favor, but would in fact be detrimental to, the seafarers, for they would be treated differently and unfavorably as compared to all other types of workers,” the NLRC said.
At this juncture, we are pleased to inform that in 2022, the affirmance rate of decision of the NLRC in the Court of Appeals in 92 percent. And, those very few that get reversed do not necessarily refer to those that favor the shipping companies. Consequently, there is no need to delay the execution of the NLRC decisions.
A provision that will adversely affect a seafarer’s cause in whatever manner or nature has no place in a legal document that should be for their protection in the first place.
The pending Magna Carta must be the translation into reality of President Magsaysay’s wisdom: “He who has less in life should have more in law.”
The Magna Carta should expand, and not limit, the seafarers’ rights.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail email@example.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.