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Magna Carta for Seafarers


The Philippines’ House of Representatives committee on overseas workers has approved a new “Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers” designed to ensure working and living conditions that are consistent with Philippine law and international maritime conventions.


Magna Carta

Magna Carta

The phrase “Magna Carta” has been thrown around a lot of late – the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC2006) was dubbed thus, and so too this new piece of Philippine legislation. It may be a good idea to ask just what Magna Carta means.

So what are we really talking about? Magna Carta Libertatum (Medieval Latin for “the Great Charter of the Liberties”), commonly called Magna Carta was a charter agreed to by King John of England in 1215. It was used as a basis to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons.

It promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown. In short it was about rights, but also about limiting power.

Perhaps the first thing to be aware is that the original Magna Carta was not aimed at the poor hard done to, down at heel general populace. On the contrary it was about securing the rights of barons from the King.


So, it was initially never about people, it was about power. Which is an interesting distinction, though it evolved over time and the rights shifted from the top of society down to the common man. Indeed, Magna Carta has been used to inform and guide many of the powerful and better developments in global society.

United States’ Declaration of Independence

United States’ Declaration of Independence

With its talk of free men, lawful judgment and justice, the Magna Carta shaped both the United States’ Declaration of Independence and also the ensuing Constitution. Also, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, it also drew upon Magna Carta.

The principal lesson and guiding light is that no power is absolute and people should have rights. That very concept has been something which has been shaping life for many, and it is only right that extends out at sea. Just because people leave the shore does not detract from the rights they should have.

It seems though that Magna Carta is not wholly well understood. Indeed, much of its power derives from what people think it said, rather than that which it actually contained. Which brings us back to how it is being used today to seemingly answer the problems facing seafarers.


MLC for Seafarers


So what of the new Philippine legislation? Well, if passed into law, it will be applied to Filipino seafarers engaged, employed or working on board Philippines-registered ships operating domestically or internationally, as well as those on board foreign-registered ships.

This maritime Magna Carta, which in essence simply enshrines MLC2006 into Philippine law, states that seafarers have the right to safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards; decent working and living conditions on board a ship; medical care, welfare measures and other forms of health and social protection; and fair terms and conditions of employment including salary commensurate to their rank, minimum number of working hours, and rest periods consistent with Philippine or international maritime conventions.

The bill also provides for seafarers’ rights to engage in collective bargaining; access to educational advancement and training at reasonable and affordable costs; relevant information, including the terms and conditions of employment and company policies affecting seafarers. It protects them against discrimination based on race, sex, religion and political opinion and provides for free legal representation for victims of violations who cannot afford legal representation.

Additionally, seafarers will have the right to expect access to communication such as ship-to-shore telephone communications, and email and internet facilities, where available. Life at sea must be made better, more fun and enjoyable. While seafarers will be entitled to repatriation at the cost of the shipowner, under the bill. Also, manning agencies will have to be licensed and will not be allowed to charge a placement fee.


Time for seafarer change

Time for change

Seafarers are a major issue, and it is right that the statute books reflect this. There are at least 229,000 Filipino seafarers employed in global shipping, of the 1.5 million seafarers worldwide. Last year alone, seafarers contributed US$5.5 billion to the Philippine economy through their remittances. So getting this right matters.

Many studies across shipping keep finding that issues such as homesickness, fatigue and work safety issues are the biggest challenges for all seafarers, not just Filipino crews. So these rights are vital, and they do need to be enshrined, enacted and protected.

Rather incredibly, it seems not all agree. According to some media reports there is concern that these rights would negatively impact some shipping companies. There is the usual griping that legislation means having to invest heavily to develop new work and safety standards.

Yes, that is true. These rules, this charter of liberties could bring with it added hassles for some. It could lead to greater costs, a need to invest and pressure to comply. Surely though, it is worth it – the returns can be so much greater than these tawdry overheads. The cost benefit analysis is clear, happy, safe, respected and well cared for people have less accidents, they work better and deliver more. So the good of the Magna Carta can be felt on all sides – it brings good for people, which brings good for shipping companies too.

What do you think? Is this maritime Magna Carta set to bring positive change for Philippine seafarers, or will it be simply ignored? We would love to hear from you – let us know your thoughts.