Seafarers' ‘Magna Carta’ approved, but doubts about some rights remain
by Stefano Vecchia

The law provides for a escrow deposit in the event of death or illness that will be recognised only after legal proceedings. This contradicts other parts of the legislation, approved at the start of this month after years of pressure from the European Maritime Safety Agency. The latter’s mandate is to ensure the safety of workers at sea.

Manila (AsiaNews) – A new law designed to protect the rights of nearly 400,000 Philippine seafarers employed on ships around the world has proven controversial.

On 6 March, the Philippine House of Representatives approved Bill No. 7325, also known as “An Act Instituting the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers”.

This comes after years of pressure by the European Maritime Safety Agency and an ultimatum by the latter on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to provide Philippine seafarers, who play an important economic and social role for the Philippines, greater legal protection and social benefits.

However, the legislation provides for an escrow deposit. In case of serious illness or death, what is due to the victim or family will not be automatically granted but will instead be placed in a fund pending an investigation and possible legal proceedings, including an appeal, up to the Supreme Court whose final decision, if necessary, might take 10 to 12 years.

Some have raised the issue of the law’s constitutionality, given that other Philippine workers are not subject to such a procedure and can immediately receive monetary compensation.

Others note that cases of disability or death are not always easy to verify, especially outside the country or on vessels at sea, while some employers and lawyers might try to inflate the number and gravity of cases.

This would go against the Magna Carta itself, which guarantees "full protection" to seafarers before, during and after employment, especially in case of accidents at sea, epidemics or pandemics, and other natural or man-made crises.

The legislation acknowledges the role of "unknown heroes" played by Filipinos employed on ships and, while listing the duties and responsibilities of seafarers, it requires ship owners and companies to ensure a risk-free workplace that meets safety standards.

In particular, the law provides workers with fair workplace, adequate working and living conditions on ships, medical assistance, opportunities for professional development, access to communications, information about seafarers’ families, and free legal representation.