Recent statistics confirming a significant increase in overseas remittances from Filipino mariners have rejuvenated calls in that country for greater concern about their welfare. The Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives is believed to be pushing through a bill dubbed ‘The Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers’ through the country’s legislative process.
Senator Loren Legarda, who filed the bill in the Philippines’ Senate, said, "Seafarers make up a significant 25.83 percent of the country's migrant work force yet most of the policies and programs catering to the needs of migrant workers are designed for the conditions and situation of land-based workers. We need to establish the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, which would address the specific needs of our seafarers. We welcome any move that would support such efforts, and I encourage my fellow legislators in the two Houses of Congress to push for the immediate passage of the measures filed for the benefit of our sea-based workers”.
Filipino sea-based workers remitted a total of US$ 4,339,407,000 for the first three months of 2010. On a Year-on-Year basis, there is an 11.31 percent increase in remittances from sea-based overseas Filipino workers between January to August this year; these remittances are growing twice as fast as those from land-based workers.
Under the bill, seafarers will be guaranteed their right to humane working conditions and just compensation. Manning and crewing agencies will be required to provide, by law, adequate information about on-board conditions as well as local and international laws that apply to the Filipino seafarer. Senator Legarda says that “their (sea-based workers’) contribution to the country is worthy of recognition and it is a must that the State protect and uphold the rights of the Filipino seafarers and address their specific needs”. The bill provides for access to affordable and quality education to ensure that Filipinos maintain an edge over others; it also seeks to ensure ‘retraining or reintegration’ of the seafarer after his sea-service. The bill also establishes added services for the families of maritime workers.
"The Filipino seafarers are one of our country's important human resources. They should be given attention and protection for their continued growth and development which will translate to the improvement of our country's socio economic conditions," Legarda said. The bill also addresses issues of illegal recruitment and bars government employees of maritime organisations or their relatives from the mariner recruitment business. It seeks to lay down conditions of employment of seafarers in detail, including social welfare and benefits, besides detailing mechanisms for settlement of disputes.
Senator Angara, who authored the ‘Magna Carta’, feels that a comprehensive and definitive legislation to address mariner issues is long overdue. “To maximise the potential of this industry, we must prioritise the development and training of our seafarers," said Angara. "We must push for the development and implementation of a strong, consistent legislative agenda for Filipino seafarers. We need to create a new system to recognise and advance their issues and concerns, through reforms in our maritime industry."
The Filipino political system is clearly light years ahead of its Indian counterpart when it comes to seafarer issues. Although critics in that country say that the ‘Magna Carta of Filipino seafarers’ has been in the pipeline for far too long, the fact is that the initiative now being pushed recognises the seafaring industry as different, critical and one that requires to be uniquely addressed. If their legislative process passes this bill, it will be a victory for thousands of Filipino seafarers and will boost the profile, in that country, of a career at sea.