The PHILIPPINE Coastwise Shipping Association (PCSA) and other stakeholders in the local shipping industry remain firm in their stand against the passage of the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers.

During the public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, at Bai Hotel in Mandaue City, presided by Kabayan Partylist Rep. Ron Salo, chairman of the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs of the House of Representatives, players in the domestic shipping industry want to have a separate policy for seafarers navigating the domestic waters of the country.

PCSA chairman Lucio Lim Jr. told lawmakers that the proposed measures are not applicable to the local shipping industry and may lead to its collapse. He said a distinction should be made between domestic and international vessels.

According to Lim, the proposed bill, which both have the House of Representatives and Senate versions, incorporates some provisions of the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) of 2006 that are only applicable to ships or vessels navigating in international waters and engaged in global trade.

“If you look at the provisions of the MLC 2006, there’s no way we believe that the domestic shipping (players) can abide by it,” said Lim.

Lim said the Maritime Industry Authority and the Department of Labor and Employment must be tasked to come up with domestic maritime regulations that would set the living and working standards of seafarers working on board domestic ships engaged in the domestic trade.

Impact on apprenticeships

One of the sectors that will be greatly affected by the passage of the bill is maritime students.

Lim said if the bill will be passed, “nobody can accept any more apprenticeships.”

“The schools are also worried... they don’t have training ships. This (bill) will kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” he said.

Lim explained that unlike the big ships in Manila where they charge students for apprenticeships, vessels in the Visayas and Mindanao are giving training for free upon the requests of local government units, among others.

“Seventy percent of seafarers abroad come from the Visayas and Mindanao, and 70 percent that are from these islands come from Central Visayas. Our members, composed of small to medium operators, accept apprenticeships up to 20 or 25 each in a small ship. We sacrifice our passenger area for them to be accommodated,” said Lim.

He also noted that the bill is requiring the domestic shipowners so much that if implemented could disrupt domestic trade.

“We are objecting to the implementation of the Magna Carta on domestic trade because it is not necessary and doable. If they implement that in the Philippines, the operational cost will go up and of course, everybody will have to charge higher,” Lim said, in a virtual interview in 2021.

The PCSA has been vocal about its opposition to the bill. It has drafted position papers since 2017.

Applying MLC 2006 provisions to the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers will also violate the ship owner and operator’s rights to equal protection under the constitution.

Lim also noted that traditional maritime nations such as the United Kingdom, Norway, and Japan do not apply MLC 2006 to their domestic industry.

Specifically, the MLC requires that accommodation should be given to seafarers on board, which according to PCSA, could not be done in domestic ships due to short-time voyages as well as limited space on board. In fact, the group said most passenger ships only travel for more or less four hours per trip from its port of origin until it reaches its final port of destination.

Lim also said there must be a clear distinction between the guidelines on the decent living and working that a Filipino seafarer can experience while aboard a domestic ship navigating the territorial waters of the country, in comparison to seafarers aboard an international vessel plying the international waters.

The difference in the sizes of the ship or vessel will affect the working and living conditions of a seafarer as domestic vessels are small and carry less cargo and passengers while international ships have more capacity to accommodate more seafarers.

“The Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers shall cover only those Filipino seafarers working on board ships engaged in international trade and for ships engaged in international trade flying the Philippine flag,” the group’s position paper said.

Magna Carta

In September 2022, Salo said nine bills on the proposed Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers are being discussed.

The Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers seeks to provide protection to all Filipino seafarers from the start of their training to apprenticeship, employment, and retirement which will be incorporated through a system of education, training, certification, and licensing program.

The bill also mandates the creation of a mechanism that enhances the administrative, adjudicative, social, and welfare services to Filipino seafarers, in addition to the welfare services for their families.

The legislation ensures that the government shall set up policies and programs that will improve Filipino seafarers’ working conditions, employment and career opportunities.

It will cover all Filipino seafarers working on board the Philippine-registered ship operating domestically or internationally, including those aboard foreign-registered ships, but excluding navy and government ships, fishing vessels, and traditionally built ships.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, National Labor Relations Commission, Filipino Association for Mariner’s Employment, Philippine Association of Service Exporters Inc., Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines, and the Philippine Coast Guard already expressed support for the bill, according to Salo. (EHP WITH KOC)