SURVIVAL AND REINTEGRATION
Filipino seafarer employment is under threat not because we are less competitive but because of the difficulty in crew repatriation and the tremendous cost charged to shipowners.
For one, there’s a tab of about US$2100/crew to process repatriated crew upon arrival in Manila. This is based on PhP2000/day for official quarantine hotel accommodation which may last up to 21days. Plus the cost of swab tests, all these charged to shipowners.
They are now complaining and shop to employ other nationalities to replace Filipinos. If this continues, majority will lost employment before the pandemic is over.
“Let us not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,” so to speak.
But the decline is not just due to the pandemic. POEA records a decline (officers and ratings) due to shortfalls discovered by the audit of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) of the European Union. Rumors even circulated EU will no longer recognize Philippine maritime certifications which may ban Filipino seafarers from working on EU vessels.
The artificial rise in numbers in the past years were due to crew in cruise ships. Now that cruises are stopping operations, decline will be exponential which might cripple us.
Pres. Duterte received a joint letter (dated May 9) by maritime stakeholders, in a tone as if Government is ignorant of the situation:
- Stranded in Manila since March 2020, thousands of seafarers are still unable to go back to their provinces. When crew change opens, 135,000 seafarers will return (June to August) which require 45,000 quarantine rooms per month.
- DOLE Order 211 of 2020, mandates lodging/meals/domestic transport cost to the provinces are responsibilities of the Overseas workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), both land and seabased. Fund source is OWWA’s Emergency Repatriation Fund (ERF).
- But POEA disagreed and issued MC No. 9, S. 2020 mandating the PRAs (landbased) and LMAs (seabased) to be responsible instead of OWWA.
- POEA’s Seafarers Employment Contract and CBAs, state contract is terminated on arrival at the point of hire (Manila). Thus, Principals strongly object and refuse to pay quarantine costs; LMAs cannot pay if Principals don’t.
- OWWA, quoting POEA MC 9 as basis, required LMAs to shoulder the cost except if seafarers are “abandoned”. Instead of a14-day quarantine, LMA obligation has extended to more than 50 days since March 2020. The RT PCR Test at P4, 500/head is also charged to LMAs --- but OWWA pays for PRAs of landbased OFWs.
- LMAs appeal to DOLE to allocate funds for the seabased industry in the Supplemental Budget of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act to cover:
- RT PCR Test for Returning and Joining Crew (about 135,000 returning, and 135,000 joining crew from June to August 2020).
- Quarantine costs for returning seafarers for 4 days to conduct RT PCR Test, await results and arrange transport to the province.
- Refund of quarantine costs from March until stranded crew are dispatched.
- Pay transport costs for the stranded/repatriated from Manila to provinces.
- Pay transport cost of joining seafarers from the provinces to Manila.
For the five items, budget requested for the seabased Industry is about P3.5-billion.
DOLE advised its AKAP program gave some 23,000 seafarers P10,000.00 each cash assistance; that PHILHEALTH will pay or subsidize the cost of RT PCR Covid test, without mention of quarantine nor domestic transport cost.
If neither Congress nor DOLE do not act, LMAs strongly request OWWA to utilize the funds contributed by Principals estimated now at PhP6-billion.
The joint appeal is from the Filipino Shipowners’ Association (FSA); Associated Marine Officers’ & Seamen’s Union of the Phils (AMOSUP); Filipino Association for Mariners’ Employment (FAME); Phil Seafarers Union (PSU); Phil Association of Manning Agencies and Ship Managers (PAMAS), Intl Maritime Association of the Phil (INTERMAP)
Mariners’ & Allied Transport Employees Union (MATEU); Phil-Japan Manning Consultative Council (PJMCC); Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA); United Filipino Seafarers (UFS); Society of Filipino Ship Captains (FILSCAPTS); Masters and Mates Association of the Phil (MMAP) and Integrated Seafarers of the Phil (ISP).
OWWA is not helping LMAs on the cost (other than transport) because “LMAs have primary responsibility to bear the cost of food and accommodation of arriving seafarers per POEA M.C. No. 9,” insists OWWA Administrator Cacdac.
Cacdac says while he will love a legal debate, he will make it “short and sweet.” COA has audited OWWA and has set parameters on how and what to spend on the PhP6-billion private trust fund for seafarers.
DO 211 is not a regulatory issuance. It was meant to implement an IATF Resolution during the first week of ECQ, to provide a governmental solution to the possibility of OFWs being stranded at the airport. It was not meant to negate the primary responsibility of a PRA to provide food and accommodation to returning workers.
LMAs shot back neither does DO 211 speak of a licensed recruitment agency's primary obligation to provide food and accommodation to returning workers.
Cacdac makes his final point: Because for land-based workers, 80% are returning workers or balik-manggagawa. They have no PRAs. PRAs of OFWs who are not balik-manggagawa and never even tried to help their workers will have a day of reckoning. We will run after them before the POEA when all is said and done.
He then excuses himself claiming to have worked 10 hours at the office and field for seven days a week throughout the ECQ. Now, he wishes “to spend time with my wife and 8 year-old daughter.”
At the May 29 hearings, Cacdac sought PhP7.5-bilion, PhP6.4billion for hotel and accommodation, food and transport, for 2020 to 2021 repatriates.
He clarifies the remaining PhP18.8-billion OWWA Fund (from the PhP19.6-billion) is to fund reintegration and subsidies direct to OWWA members. He notes a 4% decrease on our growth rate, reviewing the numbers as these relate to sustainability.
LMAs reaction was deadpan: Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo (What’s the use of grass when the horse is dead).
The Joint Manning Group (JMG) and the Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA) expounded sentiments at the hearings of May 22 and May 29.
They seek “immediate action” as it will be most unfortunate if the Philippines, a major crewing nation, is unable to take advantage of this unique opportunity.
DOLE issued Amendatory and Supplemental provisions to its Order 211-2020 signed May27th to be aligned with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
DOLE’s Order 211-2020, Paragraph lll.3, was amended:
c. The Philippine Manning Agency of the ship owners they represent shall cover the board and lodging of their deployed seafarers during their quarantine period per Standard A4 2.1, paragraph 1 (a) of the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006.
d. The responsibility of providing for the board and lodging in III.3.b. and c. among Philippine recruitment and manning agencies shall apply whether during the implementation of the community quarantine or under the new normal.
In the May 29th legislative hearings, ALMA spokesman Julius Yano claims DOLE’s application of the MLC 2006 is “inaccurate.” The maritime lawyer points it “… merely refers to the liabilities of the employer in respect of medical conditions sustained by the seafarer in the course of her/his employment aboard..”
Further, Yano posits “…that is recognised and already embedded in the POEA Standard Employment Contract.” Yet, he recognizes the MLC 2006 “does not provide for instances” (such as the pandemic) like many legal instruments.
His main thesis is that imposing additional obligations and costs on LMAs “beyond the agreed tripartite agreement” will make Filipino seafarers less competitive in the global market, a sea-based industry pivotal to the national economy.
While appealing before legislators, ALMA reaches out to the MARINA, the regulatory agency on maritime matters, the sole Port Administration of the country.
On June 12th, ALMA sent its concern to Administrator Robert A. Empedrad on the MARINA’s Protocol of the Philippines on Crew Change and Repatriation of Seafarers dated June 8th.
ALMA is “extremely apprehensive” the MARINA’s Protocol “… will have the unintended effect of killing the manning industry.”
POEA Administrator Olalia reported at the Lower House Committee on Overseas Migrant Workers Affairs last May 22 that both new hires and rehires, have decreased by over 99%, on both land and sea-based workers,
Major reasons are travel restrictions, like the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) which prevented crew change, explains Olalia.
As for sea-based workers, only 32,419 rehires were deployed in January this year or 30% lower than 46,749 recorded in the same period last year.
In February this year, the number of rehired seafarers deployed reached 30,747— still lower than February 2019’s record of 39,515.
This was further reduced in March with only 16,260 rehired sea-based workers deployed abroad—a figure 63% lower than March 2019’s 44,854.
Only 392 rehired sea-based workers were deployed this April against 40,597 in April of 2019.
After the two hearings, TUCP Partylist Rep. Raymond Democrito C. Mendoza delivered June 5th a privilege speech, Saving the Seafaring Industry.
Mendoza warned of the impending collapse of the Philippine seafaring industry, with 400,000 practitioners (nearly 25% of the global total) and brings in US$7-billion in remittances.
He says nearly all were affected, some unable to fulfil contracts because they could not be deployed and some were left to extend contracts indefinitely onboard ships because no one was coming to take over.
For two and a half months, so many of our seafarers were left stranded in foreign ports, far from their loved ones; upon returning, were placed under mandatory quarantine unable to go home. To make matters worse, the costs for their board and lodging while under quarantine were being charged local LMAs and shipping agencies.
Facilitate their redeployment, bearing an extra tag of US$700 for deployment.
The Government must invest in the seafaring industry. It should take on the costs of the quarantine before the discussion on who should pay as this causes workers to lose contracts.
Our workers must now compete with Myanmar, Vietnam, China, and those in Eastern Europe, all at an advantage as their governments foot the bill for board and lodging, none allowed to be stranded for over two months in their points of origin.
Their Governments are subsidizing the seafaring industry to survive, Mendoza claims.
Filipinos are considered the best but we could price ourselves out of the market. While competitors subsidize, we impose more restrictions.
Mendoza believes we should also subsidize to compete on even keel. He even diverts to tap the Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA) that gives first-priority access for loans to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
Retrenched OFWs should also be prioritized to start-up enterprises.