Filipino seafarers have expressed strong opposition to an escrow provision in the proposed Magna Carta for the industry, saying it’s “Anti-Seaman.”
Oiler seaman Jacinto Rivera, spokesperson for AMOR Seaman, said the provision states that any monetary award for a sick or deceased seaman from the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) or National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) will not be immediately available to the seaman winning the case.
“The AMOR Seaman strongly opposes the proposal to put the monetary award that has already been won in the NLRC or the NCMB into the ESCROW account,” Rivera said.
“It will be placed in an Escrow bank account while the case is in the Court of Appeals and up to the Supreme Court. Disability or death benefits can only be obtained if there has been a final decision in the Supreme Court which usually takes ten to twelve years,” he explained.
The AMOR Seaman strongly believes the provision regarding escrow is “anti-seaman” and “pro-employers”, “pro-manning”, and “pro-ship owners”.
The seafarers said the escrow provision will put them at a disadvantage and discourage them from filing claims for disability or death benefits because of the number of years they’ll have to wait before they can win the case.
Rivera asked where will they get the money to spend on the case, their medical treatment, and the food for their family while waiting for the outcome of the case.
The AMOR Seaman also stated the escrow provision is “unconstitutional” as the Labor Code provides the decision of the NLRC or the NCMB is “final and executory” which means that if the NLRC or NCMB decides in favor of the seaman, the seaman will immediately get his benefits. This provision in the Labor Code is for all workers, whether land-based or sea-based, and includes Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
Rivera also asked, “Why must the monetary award of the Filipino seafarer who won the case be placed in the escrow account but the monetary award of other workers including land-based OFWs who won their cases be allowed to receive it immediately? This is a clear violation of the equal protection clause under our Constitution.”
The AMOR Seaman pointed out the purpose of our Constitution is to provide adequate protection to all workers. “To set aside the said Constitutional purpose is to set aside the Constitutional rights of our seafaring workers,” Rivera added.
“An uphill battle for seamen who filed cases”
Rivera said filing a case is an uphill battle for a sick or injured seaman. He said, “Apart from the fact that it takes time to resolve, the aggrieved seaman must immediately address his illness and injury. Seafarers are therefore driven to file a case not because of greed but by need.”
“Besides the usually unreasonable length of the progress of these cases, we cannot make a living while hearing the case for the precise reason that we are either ill or injured and no employer will hire us under our condition. If we add the placement in the escrow account of our won case and wait a few more years, it will be a big blow to us. Is this like pushing us to death, that it doesn’t matter if we disappear from this world as long as the case lasts longer? Isn’t this a lot of suffering for our sailors? It’ll be a heavier cross to bear.”
“We’re modern-day heroes deserving of honor”
Rivera said, “If it is true that we are considered ‘modern-day heroes’ then we should be given fair, reasonable, and just treatment not only in the eyes of the law but in an actual situation. The law may be good, but if there is a provision inserted that only aggravates our sufferings, it obviously desecrates our honor.”
“We pray that our legislators will be blessed by our dear Lord and be given wisdom and conscience so that such a proposal is rejected! We agree to the provisions of the Magna Carta for Seafarers except for the escrow provision,” Rivera added.