ENSURING OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH & SAFETY FOR OVERSEAS FILIPINO SEAFARERS

By:

Dr. Virgel C. Binghay
School of Labor & Industrial Relations University of the Philippines E-mail: vcbinghay@yahoo.com
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INTRODUCTION
 The ship is one of the most dangerous workplaces with high mortality rate.
 Philippines dominates seafaring occupation. Filipino seafarers account for around 20 percent of the world‟s total supply of seafarers onboard.

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 The world‟s maritime industry continues to rely on Filipino seafarers to handle 3D (dirty, dangerous, demeaning) jobs onboard foreign vessels.

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 Filipino seamen also make a substantial contribution to the Philippine economy.  This scenario provides the basis for this presentation to reiterate the need for sincere enforcement of occupational health and safety measures and guidelines by employers and governments to ensure better working conditions for all seafarers in the world.
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THE PHILIPPINE LABOR MARKET CONTEXT
 The Philippines‟ labor surplus economy is one key „push‟ factor behind the growth of the number of seafarers, and OFWs as well.

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 A huge population and high annual population growth rate added sizeable increase in job seekers yearly, while job creation has not kept pace.

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 The growth of seafaring labor force is triggered mainly by global demand.
 Domestic shipping may have contributed to its development, but the recruitment of seafarers in the global market progressed rapidly in the past three decades.

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 In this light, the requirements of the competitive global shipping industry principally shaped policy for the crewing industry, maritime schools and government agencies.

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PROTECTION OF SEAFARERS
The legal rights of Filipino seafarers come from two primary sources:
 The law  The employment contract

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THE LAW
1. Philippine Constitution of 1987
 mandates the State to “afford protection to
labor, local and overseas, organized and unorganized, and promote full employment opportunities for all.”

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2. Philippine Labor Code of 1974
 mandates the State to “afford protection to labor, local and overseas, organized and unorganized, and promote full employment opportunities for all.”

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3. Philippine Republic Act 8042 (Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995)
 provides policy thrusts such as the guarantee of migrant workers rights

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Standard Terms and Conditions Governing the Employment of Filipino Seafarers OnBoard Ocean-Going Vessels (POEA):
1. To faithfully comply with the stipulated terms and conditions of this contract. 2. To make operational on board the vessel the grievance machinery provided in this contract. 3. To provide a seaworthy vessel for the seafarer and take all reasonable precautions to prevent accident and injury to the crew. 4. To observe the Code of Ethics for Seafarers and conduct himself in the traditional decorum of a master.

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With these policy statements, it can be discerned that a safer and healthier work environment has long been recognized as a major factor for the protection of maritime workers‟ rights. However, in as much as the State has indeed come up with commendable policies, there is also a widespread recognition of the need to build capacity and sincerity to implement, and to fund programs envisioned by all these policies.
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SITUATION OF FILIPINO SEAFARERS
 Seafarers are fixed term contractual employees – 12 months  Trilateral employment relationship – local recruiting agency (i.e., crewing or manning agency), the foreign ship owner, and the crew.

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Long & Tedious Job Search
 The ordeal of a Filipino seaman starts even while he is still looking for job on the high seas – during the “job search” period.

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 Average job search period – 7.2 months
 Average length of seafarers‟ employment contract – 9.9 moths

 This means that seafarers spent about the same time looking for a job as they spent working on board
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Unscrupulous Recruitment Agencies
 Asking applicants huge amount of money in order to get a break in seafaring occupation
 Manning agencies using the new graduates to work without pay for as long as one year in exchange of the chance to get their first work experience on board ship.
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 Trainees made to pay “training fees” though they are not assured of job after “training”  Manning agency asking seaman to sign a document stating that he owe the agency a certain amount of money and this is done when he is already at the airport so as not to give the seaman option but to sign on the document.

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 Seafarers complain about expensive, timeconsuming, overlapping procedures, as well as red tape in the processing of papers
 Employment aboard ocean-going ship inevitably subjects the worker to rigorous isolation and confinement.
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Isolation & Negative Work Situation
 Rigorous isolation & confinement  Ship not only of work for him/her but also a home  Regimented life throughout employment period  Subject to the command & whims of the master of the ship  At the mercy of the perils & danger of the high seas
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Discrimination, Abuse, Maltreatment & Unfair Labor Practices
 Blacklisting  Lowering of Benefits  Longer Working Hours  Health & Safety Risks

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Causes of Death
 Maritime disasters (such as capsizings & sinkings)  Pirates  War areas  Drowning & hypothermia  Violence  Suffocation  Contusion  Disappearance from ship voyage  Back strains
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 Risk of cancer  Cardiovascular diseases  Malaria infections  Sexually transmitted diseases  Acute diseases & serious injuries

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Controversial Provisions of the “New Standard Employment Contract”
 An injured or sick seafarer, or his/her heirs (if the seafarer dies), can claim only if his injury, illness, or death have been thoroughly proven to be work-related.

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 Seafarers‟ quit claims and full disclosure of a seaman‟s medical history
 Once seafarers or their families claim death and disability, they can no longer file damages for negligence or torts cases against a foreign ship

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Competition & Lowering of Benefits
 International ships have begun recruiting more seafarers from other countries --mariners who are at par with Filipinos in terms of skills, but are willing to accept lower wages.

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 Filipino seamen are being asked to trade off some of some of their benefits to remain in demand in the industry

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CONCLUSIONS:
 Enforcement of legislations aiming to protect the rights of our migrant workers, particularly our overseas Filipino seafarers, is in no way at par with their economic contribution to the Philippines

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 Two main factors why the assurance of occupational health and safety remains elusive Filipino seafarers.
- the lack of interest on the part of the employers/ ship owners to fully enforce occupational health and safety measures for seafarers especially that an effective health and safety management entails a considerable economic costs to ship owners.
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- lack of political will both from receiving and sending countries to adopt concerted and more assertive actions to address the problems related to ensuring a safer and healthier work environment for sea-based workers.

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RECOMMENDATIONS:
 There is a need to revise existing laws greatly affecting sea-based workers, primarily the Migrant Workers Act, since that said Act mainly addresses land-based jobs and any support for the overseas seafarers is stipulated only in the affirmation of very general principles as Filipinos deserving protection from the State.
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 There is a need to streamline operations and services for seafarers and consequently, a need to rationalize government agencies involved with seafarers‟ education and training, certification, labor market regulation, employment processing, protection and welfare.
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 There is a need to evaluate how the seafaring educational system of the country may be improved to adequately prepare Filipino seamen for the future jobs at sea.

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 Maritime schools and shipping firms/ employers are encouraged to look at the possibility of investing on the preparation of seafarers for life and work with multinational crews to develop teamwork, good rapport, effective communication, and good decision-making in critical situations to prevent maritime disasters and work-related accidents.
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 Strengthen social dialogues among major stakeholders such as the seafarers group, shipping firms, and governments of receiving and sending countries, and other stakeholders such as crewing agencies, seafarer unions, maritime schools, and international labor and multilateral organizations, with regards to upgrading the industry, promoting seafarers‟ welfare, and decent work on board ships.
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 The incoming President of the Philippines must seriously look into plights of the overseas Filipino seafarers.

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“No society can ever claim to be civilized if it does not show honest concern for the health & safety of its workforce.” - Cox & Cox
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References

Amante, Mragtas S.V. (2005). Philippine Global Seafarers: Ethnicity & Identity in Ships with Multinational Crews. MINDA Vol. 2 No. 2. [htt://www.philjol.info/index.php/MINDA/article/vie w/1276/1161 date accessed: January 25, 2010]

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Binghay, Virgel C. (2009). Talent Management, Migration & Globalization. VCB Research & Publications.

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THANK YOU!

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