Seafarers rally at Senate to reject escrow provision in final version of Magna Carta for Seafarers
MANILA, Philippines—Ahead of the first bicameral committee meeting for the proposed Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers, hundreds of seafarers on Tuesday (December 5) called on the committee to exclude escrow, fiduciary accounts, or related terms from the bill’s final draft.
Hundreds of seafarers gathered at the Senate to appeal to the Senate bicameral panel to protect them from the insertion of the “anti-labor and anti-seaman” provision in the bill.
Toby Tano, president of the labor group All Filipino Workers Confederation (AFWC), said in a statement that last May 1, several labor groups joined hands in protesting the insertion of the escrow provision in the proposed Magna Carta. The group included Amor Seaman, the Federation of Free Workers, and the National Association of Trade Unions.
The provision, according to Tano, was “anti-labor and anti-seaman.”
At present, two versions of the bill await review by the bicameral committee. House Bill No. 7325, passed on March 6, included the escrow provision, previously criticized as an “anti-labor insertion.”
On the other hand, Senate Bill No. 2221, which was passed last September, does not contain the escrow provision.
The bicameral conference committee is set to review the proposed Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers on Dec. 6, with the goal of resolving discrepancies between the versions passed by each legislative chamber.
In a column published by the Cebu Daily News (CDN), lawyer Dennis Gorecho said OFW money claims cases take an average of 7.2 years to go through the entire judicial process from the date of filing of the complaint at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) until the time the Supreme Court decides on it if it reaches the high court.
“The seafarer will wait for longer years before they receive the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC)/National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) award if the proposed escrow provision will be included,” Gorecho explained.
“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,” he added.
“In the end, the ‘balance of scale’ will tilt more to capital as this will protect the business interest of the manning agencies and their principal rather than the seafarers themselves,” he added.
New provision, same threats
According to AFWC, there are rumors circulating that a new provision under the name “fiduciary account” might be inserted in the final version of the bill “to make it appear that no escrow provision is contained in the bill.”
However, upon closer examination, it appears to function similarly to the escrow provision. This provision would delay the execution of disability or death benefit awards until the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court make a final decision, a process that typically takes about seven to 10 years.
“This is very prejudicial if passed into law because it will deprive the seafarers whom we called modern heroes of financial capacity to live with means for health care during recovery from injury or illnesses, for basic needs of the family, and children’s education,” Tano said.
“This will only cause great suffering to our modern heroes and worse, even death for the seriously ill repatriated seamen,” he added.
Tano likewise stressed that if such measures are applied to one labor sector, it sets a precedent that could place land-based employees and other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in a similarly unfavorable situation, which would breach the equal protection clause under the Constitution.
“We are therefore also calling on the benevolence of the Senate, particularly the members of the Senate bicameral panel, to continue to protect the rights of the seafarer by disallowing any kind of provision that tends to prolong the implementation of the final and executory awarded benefits of the seafarers,” said Tano.
“It is in that way that the Magna Carta for Seafarers bill will truly be a social legislation that our Constitution gives to laborers not being in the same level as capital like the moneyed manning agencies,” he added.