The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) raised the alarm to Government that international experts are warning that the preference of the international merchant marine and cargo shippers for Filipino seafarers is now at risk as quarantine requirements and travel restrictions imposed by local governments, coupled with the lack of Government budgetary support with additional costs being passed-on to manning agencies, have messed up the high demand for Filipino crew.
TUCP strongly advised Government to expedite “green lanes” to facilitate both repatriation and passage for seafarers as essential workers all the way down to the LGU level and to provide a supplemental budget for board and lodging as well as Covid-19 testing , in response to the urgent call of international organizations of seafarers and ship-owners to treble the supply of Filipino seafarers during the online Tripartite High Level Meeting on Crew Change and on the ILO Information Note held last July 17, 2020.
During the High Level Meeting, International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Secretary General Stephen Cotton was joined by Secretary General Guy Platten of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), as he appealed for the Philippine Government to immediately treble the number of deployed Filipino seafarers to board merchant ships pointing out that they continue to be the seafarers of choice due to their professionalism and hard work.
“Shipping is the backbone of the global economy and the Filipino seafarers are the backbone of the shipping industry. The Government and the stakeholders have a moral obligation not to lose this Philippine legacy and to work out concrete steps to expedite the joining and repatriation of Filipino seafarers without being a spreader of COVID-19,” ITF Secretary General Stephen Cotton pointed out.
Both the ITF and ICS warned that “time is running short” as the existing bottlenecks are made worse with the current cap on the maximum volume of international arrivals and departures at our airports.
NAIA has a cap of 3,000 passengers for arrival and 3,000 passengers for departure daily, and at Clark Airport and Mactan Airport, both have daily caps for arriving passengers and departing passengers of 1,500 for each category.
Both warned that this lack of capacity will compromise the jobs of Filipino seafarers. Earlier, TUCP Partylist Rep. Raymond Democrito C. Mendoza, in a Privilege Speech and series of meetings with both the House Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs (HCOWA) and with members of the House Committee on Economic Affairs, emphasized the importance of our seafarers’ contribution in jumpstarting the Philippine economy in the face of recession, and the need to address the bottlenecks in deployment and repatriation.
These concerns, including that of the passed-on costs of quarantine, swabbing and transport are pricing Filipino seafarers out of the market and are making us uncompetitive compared to seafarers from China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Eastern Europe, and other countries whose respective governments subsidized the costs.
Rep. Mendoza requested the July 17 High Level Meeting on Crew Change and following an online meeting with ILO Specialists Beatriz Vacotto and Brandt Wagner on June 25, 2020 on crew change protocol to clarify the ILO Information Note which was invoked by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in passing on the cost of quarantine, testing and transport of Filipino seafarers to the manning agencies through Department Order No. 211-A, Series of 2020.
The High Level Meeting was participated in by no less than the ILO Director for International Standards, Ms. Corrine Vargha, with the Secretary General Stephen Cotton of International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Secretary General Guy Platten of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Ms. Heike Deggim of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and ILO Specialist Beatriz Vacotto.
The Philippines was represented by the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), Associated Labor Unions (ALU-TUCP), Associated Philippine Seafarers Union (APSU), Associated Marine Officers and Seafarers Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP), and MARINO-SENTRO representing the Philippine seafarers, while the employers were represented by the Filipino Shipowners’ Association (FSA) and the Joint Manning Group (JMG).
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), MARINA, PCG, POEA and OWWA presented the government interventions on crew change protocol and OFWs repatriations.
The ITF affiliates in the Philippines, the AMOSUP and APSU, had identified bottlenecks in the repatriation of Filipino seafarers such as very limited flights to the Philippines requiring government action to designate PAL and Cebu Pacific for repatriation flights; consular services which are non-functioning creating a backlog in visas and which require that our Government urgently engage in active discussion with Schengen visa countries; extremely testing and quarantine capacity in our airports, not only for incoming and outgoing Filipino seafarers to speed up the deployment process but also for transiting seafarers; and on the need for POEA to guarantee that deployed Filipino seafarers exiting the Philippines are genuine seafarers.
The DFA, through Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos, presented the Joint Circular on Philippine Green Lanes for Seafarers which detailed six (6) movement scenarios on testing cost, quarantine and on 9(c) visa or exemption.
The three (3) scenarios that pertain solely to Filipino seafarers laid out cost on any form of COVID-19 testing and quarantine for joining or outbound to be shouldered by the manning agencies while inbound RT-PCR testing shall be charged to PhilHealth and quarantine at DOH accredited facilities or on board the ship shall be shouldered by the manning agency.
Transiting Filipino seafarers within six (6) hours at airport to airport or terminal to terminal are generally not required to be tested and quarantined if not exhibiting any symptom of COVID-19.
APSU President Michael Mendoza, emphasized the need for clear timelines and to bring down the cost for crew changes, maintaining that the Philippine Government should invest and reciprocate the heroic sacrifices of Filipino seafarers with equally heroic policies, efforts, and budgetary support.
“Reports and actual experiences of our members detailed stringent and discriminatory regulations imposed by the LGUs on returning OFWs, both land-based and sea-based. This has made the repatriation process longer and costly due to double or triple quarantines and testing and has not been good on the overall well-being of the seafarers,” he added.
“Both the ITF and the International Chamber of Shipowners (ICS) made a collective call on the Philippine Government to do everything possible to address the logjams in joining, leaving and transiting seafarers. The Government should heed the call otherwise we lose out to competing countries. The average Filipino crew has already been on board the ships for 14 months because their replacements are facing the problems of double or triple quarantines, limited and erratic outbound and inbound flights, and limited testing and quarantine capacities at airports and seaports, among others,” TUCP Vice President Luis Corral reminded the government. FSA and JMG also echoed the call to address the bottlenecks in the deployment and repatriations of Filipino seafarers.
While Rep. Mendoza committed to pursue the removal of bottlenecks in crew change and to comprehensively address through the proposed Magna Carta for Seafarers pending in Congress, the issues of repatriation and crew change, Associated Labor Union (ALU) Vice President Gerard Seno reiterated the position of ALU-TUCP that the cost of board and lodging during quarantine for in-bound seafarers should be subsidized by the government.