Plea to Senate: Pass Magna Carta for seafarers but scrap escrow
MANILA, Philippines—Bayan Muna Chairperson Neri Colmenares urged the Senate to pass the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, which seeks to provide Filipino seafarers full protection before, during, and after employment, without its controversial escrow provision.
House Bill (HB) No. 7325, or the proposed Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, was approved by the House of Representatives on final reading last March.
The measure outlines the rights and welfare of seafarers, like the right to educational advancement and training at an affordable cost; the right to public consultation in discussions about their jobs; the right against discrimination; the right to free legal representation; and the right to an appropriate grievance mechanism.
However, Colmenares expressed concern against the escrow provision, which can be found in Section 51 of the proposed Magna Carta — a provision that he believes will deprive seafarers of their legal rights for compensation over violations of ship owners and management.
“The Magna Carta for Seafarers rights approved by the House of Representatives inserted a provision that even if seafarers win their case for compensation against employers, the award for compensation be placed on escrow and will not be given to them while the employer appeals,” said Colmenares in a statement.
“The current rule is if seafarers win their case at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), the compensation shall be awarded to the winning seafarer even if the employer appeals,” he said.
“The House-inserted escrow provision essentially deprives seafarers of compensation for injuries suffered and other violations of ship owners and management as they will have to wait for years before the award is given them,” Colmenares added.
According to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the escrow provision mandates that a third party will hold any contested funds for compensation involving work-related injuries or the amount will not be released to the seafarer or their heirs “until all litigation processes and corresponding appeals to higher courts have been completed.”
The overseas Filipino workers (OFW) group Migrante International had explained that under the escrow provision, “money awards won by seafarers in the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) or the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) will not be released to them in full.”
“Instead, the money will be deposited in escrow, the amount of which shall be determined solely by the employer, manning agency, and shipowner,” the group said.
The money will be released only after the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court finally decide that the money should be given to the seafarer.
Colmenares pushed the Senate to scrap the provision in the proposed Magna Carta.
“I urge the Senate, to pass a Magna Carta law that does not provide the same escrow provision as the House and instead pass a law that recognizes the rights of seafarers including security of tenure and other benefits,” said Colmenares.
“We also urge seafarers to publicly express their opposition to the escrow provision and demand for more rights under the Magna Carta bill. We urge the workers to support the struggle of our seafarers as these escrow provisions could also be imposed on them in the future,” he added.
Ambulance chasing, added burden
Proponents of the escrow provision have previously stressed that it would protect seafarers from ambulance chasing, which, according to Republic Act (RA) No. 10706, or the Seafarers Protection Act, occurs when lawyers or their subordinates actively go after victims of accidents or individuals involved in potentially big legal issues with the intent to file cases on their behalf.
Ambulance chasers usually deduct and exploit sizeable cuts from the monetary claim or benefit granted to or awarded to the seafarers or their heirs, often without consent.
“We are a seafaring nation that highly values the contribution of Filipino seafarers on our fleet but I am expressing the concern of our ship owners that a legislative framework without an escrow facility will pave the way for Ambulance Chasing to become endemic,” said Netherlands Ambassador Marielle Geraedts.
However, Colmenares slammed the ambassador’s statement, which he described as “threats.”
“Reducing the battle for workers and seafarers’ rights to ambulance chasing, as if the claims for compensation by workers are untrue and baseless, is certainly reprehensible,” Colmenares said.
“If these compensation claims by seafarers are mere lies and baseless, why are the ship owners with their highly paid lawyers losing their labor cases?” he added.
Colmenares argued that the push for escrow implies that “labor arbiters and NLRC commissioners are paid bribes to favor baseless claims by seafarers.”
It’s like officials “publicly declare that these labor cases filed by workers are baseless and mere ambulance chasing,” Colmenares said.
The Bayan Muna chairperson also echoed concerns from other groups and organizations that the provision will add more years to the already tedious and long-winding process of filing for compensation for a work-related injury and the actual awarding of the contested funds to the affected seafarers and their families.
“As it is, seafarers are already burdened with the long process of filing complaints and claims for injuries suffered during employment,” Colmenares said.
“If they win their case, the compensation awarded will help a lot in their hospital bills from their injury as well as provide support for their families as they are now unemployed due to the injuries they suffered,” he said.
“The escrow provision will deprive them of their benefits as they will have to wait for many years when the ship owner appeals to the Supreme Court,” he added.
He stressed that while seafarers have to wait for years for justice to be served, ship owners have the legal rights and the resources they need to defend themselves.
Moreover, the ship owners may also file for a restraining order (TRO) against any compensation awarded to the seafarer.
“The escrow provision will only load the dice in favor of ship owners and management and against ordinary seafarers,” Colmenares said.
Seafarers’ claims to be delayed by placing awards in Escrow