Press Release
August 25, 2020

Hontiveros bill pushes comprehensive reintegration programs, free legal aid to Pinoy seafarers affected by covid-19 pandemic

"Malaki na ang naitulong ng hanay marino sa ating bansa, pero ngayong panahon ng krisis, sila ang nangangailangan ng ating malasakit at suporta. Our seafarers deserve better protections as they deal with this difficult moment for the global maritime industry."

This according to Senator Risa Hontiveros, as she pushed for a bill that mandates comprehensive reintegration programs, free legal assistance and other workplace protections for Filipino seafarers that will help them better cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a hearing by the Senate Committe on Labor, Hontiveros called for the urgent passage of her Senate Bill No. 357, or the proposed Magna Carta for Seafarers so government can better help the thousands of Filipino maritime workers whose livelihood was badly hit by the effects of the pandemic on global markets.

The so-called "Marino Bill, Hontiveros said, will provide a comprehensive package of reforms to the legal framework regulating the maritime labor industry so the rights and welfare of seafarers are better protected before, during, and after deployment.

"We have long needed a strong legal framework for Pinoy seafarers that can safeguard their rights and interests wherever they may be. This is especially true during this pandemic, since thousands of our sea-based workers are more vulnerable to illegal termination, decreased or unpaid salaries, unsafe working conditions and other forms of abuses," she said.

Reintegration, free legal aid

To address the dramatic rise in displaced seafarers during the last few months, Hontiveros said that the bill mandates an expanded reintegration program that will offer livelihood development, training programs and even job placement services for returning or unemployed seafarers. Under this program, seafarers who have lost their jobs may avail of appropriate retraining or skills upgrading programs so they can seek other gainful means of employment both locally and abroad.

"May at least 49,655 nang seafarer ang nawalan ng trabaho o napauwi sa bansa dahil sa COVID-19, ayon mismo sa datos ng pamahalaan. Hindi lang sila ang apektado, kundi pati ang kanilang mga pamilya. We should have a program that is ready to help them get back on their feet at the soonest," she said.

The reintegration program, she added, will be placed under concerned agencies like the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO), with cooperation from private sector partners in the port and shipping industries.

Hontiveros said that another key feature of the bill is the grant of free legal assistance to poor maritime workers whose rights may have been violated by their employers. This program, she said, is meant to better protect the rights of seafarers, especially as cases of labor abuses involving maritime workers become all too common during the pandemic.

She said that the bill also mandates employers and shipowners to provide ample medical care for seafarers who will get sick, which includes giving them access to shore-based health facilities. Likewise, the bills also mandates employers and other parties to respect the right of seafarers to self-organization, and to establish on-shore and off-shore grievance machineries for seafarers.

Prone to abuse

The package of reforms under the bill, Hontiveros said, is meant to address the situation of Filipino seafarers who are more vulnerable to abuse and other irregularities, especially during the pandemic. She cited the case of Steven Borjal, a chief cook in a container ship, who was required to work under an expired contract and with no overtime pay and other benefits, while he was waiting for his repatriation to the country.

"Marami sa ating mga marino ang sinasamantala ng kanilang employer na naabuso, naloloko at pinapahirapan bago pa man sila marepatriate at makauwi sa bansa. Huwag sana natin hayaan lang magdusa ang ating mga marino," she said.

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