To maintain the Philippines’ stature as the crewing capital of the world that is aligned to international standards of seafarer protection, Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz urged the delegates to the 2nd Philippine Manning Convention to develop a dispute settlement system that is driven by industry expertise and experience.
“This is what we must pursue to enable our Filipino seafarers to continually respond and adjust to the needs and challenges of the global maritime industry,” said Secretary Baldoz, as she addressed yesterday at the Manila Hotel the participants representing the concerns of manning agents, local and foreign ship owners, seafarer unions, and professional organizations for deck and engine officers, including maritime schools, training centers, maritime lawyers, marine travel agents and protection and indemnity correspondents.
The labor chief underscored the need to develop a dispute settlement system that is driven by industry expertise and experience, and imbued with a strong sense of ownership by the social partners.
She also recognized the crucial role that the seafarers undertake in the Filipino migration setting. “For every 10 OFWs, one of them is a seafarer. In 2014, there were 401,826 deployed seafarers. This figure represents an impressive 21.93% growth from the deployment of 367,166 seafarers in the previous year. It is a testimony to the ever-growing demand by maritime fleets that carry people, raw materials, food supply, and finished goods to ports everywhere,” Baldoz said. Baldoz also said that the deployment statistics for seafaring has registered a three-year increasing trend of not just ratings, but officers as well. She further stated that the increase in hiring of officers could be attributed to partnerships and cooperative measures among the government, the private sector and the seafarer groups, to develop our supply of seafarers, and promote quality education and skills training to meet the demand for competent seafarers.
She also commended the Philippine seafaring industry’s improving area of dispute settlement. “I am pleased to receive reports from Protection and Indemnity representatives that disposition periods at the National Labor Relations Commission have vastly improved from 2-4 years down to 6-9 months. Based also on pronouncements at the NLRC Anniversary last week, the disposition period will be further improved to just a 6-month time frame,” she added.
She also shared to the convention delegates of the feedback she got about the better quality of decisions that have been rendered by the NLRC that indicates a more balanced distribution of rulings between ship owners and seafarers.
“The combination of faster and balanced decision-making is good news because it addresses longstanding issues of bloated and excessive monetary awards, and delayed dispensation of justice,” said Baldoz.
The Secretary assured that the DOLE is committed to address industry concerns on dispute settlement through development of guidelines by the Maritime Industry Tripartite Council on Third Doctor Accreditation.
“The general idea is to refer to the Third Doctor cases of conflicting findings by the ship owner’s and seafarer’s doctors. The Third Doctor shall be chosen from a roster of accredited doctors, who shall be known for their competence, probity, and partiality. The MITC is currently addressing issues, such as the finality of Third Doctor decisions, and fees and costs to be shared by the Parties, with the possibility of finalizing the proposal for POEA Governing Board consideration by early next year,” the labor chief said.
Baldoz also shared to the convention delegates about the DOLE and the tripartite social partners’ several initiatives to protect Filipino seafarers from the threat of piracy, such as mandatory attendance of all seafarers to anti-piracy trainings; mandatory payment of double compensation and benefits for the duration of the vessel’s transit through an identified high-risk zone, or in case of detention.
She also shared about the improvement of POEA processes, which are now better appreciated, such as the ship owner and ship accreditation and seafarer documentation systems. This is part of a recent POEA issuance on streamlined ISO-certified processes and customer satisfaction feedback mechanisms.
“The POEA’s ISO certification was obtained during my stint as Administrator, and continues with the ever-growing resolve to improve service delivery and adopt several innovative measures to facilitate processes on recruitment and placement of seafarers. These include online documentation systems, online pre-employment orientation seminars, online application for special recruitment authority and letters of authority for visiting principals, not to mention shared databases with the Bureau of Immigration for documentation of outbound seafarers,” said Baldoz.
She also informed about OWWA’s strengthened provision of social protection benefits, and enhancement of education and training access, which have produced several significant accomplishments. These are the Disability and Dismemberment Benefits that amounted to P30.829 million; Death and Burial Benefits to survivors, which amounted to P354.241 million; and Seafarers Upgrading Program or Short-Term Upgrading Courses that benefited 46,762 seafarers, with P1.021 billion paid to accredited maritime institutions. The Skills-for-Employment Program, on the other hand, have benefited 4,507 seafarers and their dependents, with P45.681 million paid to TESDA-accredited training institutions.
Moreover, speaking about the OFWs who were apprehended at NAIA for violation of the Comprehensive Law on Firearms and Ammunition or Republic Act No. 10591, or the so-called “tanim bala,” Baldoz assured that the government’s efforts to address the issue are in effect. “The competent government authorities have launched investigations on allegations of extortion and planting of evidence,” Baldoz informed.
She also added that the DOLE has coordinated with the DOTC, MIAA, PNP-Avsegroup, Office of Transport Security, Department of Justice, and the Public Attorney’s Office, so that the DOLE, POEA, and OWWA could provide support and assistance to OFWs at the point of apprehension and criminal investigation.
“We seek your full cooperation and coordination, in the unfortunate event that a seafarer you have deployed becomes involved in a case for unlawful possession of ammunition or a bullet. Please join us in the campaign to remind our people about vigilance, and warn them about carrying prohibited items,” said Baldoz.