Press Release
December 5, 2013

Senate Labor Committee tackles OFW welfare bills
in Overseas Filipinos Month

Coinciding with the observance of the Overseas Filipinos Month, the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development tackled various legislative measures promoting the welfare of migrant workers.

Senator Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, Chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, presided last Tuesday the committee hearing which discussed separate pending bills seeking to create a charter of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and Magna Carta for Seafarers.

The body took up the proposed Magna Carta for Seafarers which will give flesh to the minimum labor standards on employment, recruitment and job placement of seafarers, and welfare mechanisms set forth by the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006. It also provides compulsory benefits and defines fundamental rights of the sea-based workers.

The so-called "Seafarers' Bill of Rights" is one of Sen. Estrada's priority measures for the 16th Congress and is included in the list of twelve priority measures identified by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

"With Filipino seafarers comprising more than a quarter of the 1.2 million seafarers around the globe, the enactment of this bill is indeed imperative. I really hope we can pass this bill which guarantees our seafarers their right to humane working conditions and just compensation at the soonest time possible," Sen. Estrada said in his opening statement.

The stakeholders, including the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, United Filipino Seafarers, Associated Marine Officers' and Seamen's Union of the Philippines, expressed full support to the proposed legislation. Nonetheless, a technical working group meeting is scheduled on Tuesday, December 10.

The Labor Committee also discussed the proposed OWWA Charter, which shall lay the formal legislative foundation for the defined functions and powers of the OWWA.

Sen. Estrada noted that the OWWA is a creation of different issuances of the executive over the years.

Meanwhile, the Migrant Workers Act, as amended, provides that the OWWA shall undertake the repatriation of workers in cases of war, epidemic, disasters or calamities, among others. It shall likewise formulate and implement welfare programs for overseas Filipino workers and their families while they are abroad and upon their return.

"As said by Administrator Carmelita Dimzon during the hearing, 'What are we really? The Commission on Audit applies the same auditing rules for government-owned and -controlled corporations and financial institutions, while we treat our office as a national government agency.' It appears that there is confusion on what OWWA is and the proposed charter seeks to remedy this situation," Jinggoy noted.

Sen. Estrada added that this problem manifests on sluggish response by the agency on rescuing, repatriating and assisting distressed and runaway overseas Filipino workers.

Under Senate Bill 24, the proposed OWWA Act of 2013 principally authored by Sen. Estrada, defines the nature, scope and functions of OWWA; membership, contribution and collection; OWWA board of trustees, secretariat and other personnel; guiding principles on the benefits and services for OFWs; and fiscal management, budget policy and administration of its funds.

The country is observing the Overseas Filipinos Month, following the declaration made by the late President Cory Aquino through Proclamation 276. The decree which declares the month of December as Overseas Filipinos Month recognizes and honors overseas Filipinos who "contribute to building up the Philippine economy through their taxes and remittances."

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