Migrants call for an end to oppression and exploitation of seafarers

By Nuel M. Bacarra

Migrante International (MI) demanded an end to “oppressive and exploitative work environments” affecting Filipino sailors on the occasion of the International Day of the Seafarers last Sunday, June 25.

The group pointed out Filipino seafarers still receive lower wages when compared to counterparts from ship-owning nations.

“Filipino seafarers suffer from precarious work since they are perpetually considered as contractual workers — employed for 11 months or less — who do not attain regular status despite many years of service under the same employer,” MI pointed out.

MI said the seafarers from poor countries such as the Philippines are victims of the Flag of Convenience (FOC) scheme prevailing in the global shipping industry where ship-owners from rich countries register their merchant ships in other countries to avoid financial charges or restrictive regulations in the own countries.

These ships usually bear the flag of Panama, Liberia, Belize, Malta, Bahamas, Cameroon, Cambodia, Bolivia, and Barbados that are known to have more relaxed tax laws.

Despite being very poor countries, Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands accounted for 44.3% of the world’s cargo, the group revealed.

“For workers on-board, this mean very low wages and poor on-board conditions and, most likely, on contractual basis,” MI said.

It does not help that skilled workers, including the seafarers, are marketed abroad as cheap and docile labor under the Philippine government’s neoliberal labor policy that continues under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration, the group added.

“Filipino workers are also made to spend so much for countless trainings, certification processes, tuition, and government fees and exactions before they can work on a ship, for a short period of not more than 11 months,” MI explained.

After the contract, Filipino seafarers do not enjoy security of tenure and have to join the long queue of some 300,000 jobless seafarers applying for jobs, it said.

“This, despite successive contracts of service with the same ship-owner and manning agency,” MI said.

Filipino seafarers performing repairs and maintenance tasks. (BB Telan/Kodao)

‘Fake Magna Carta’

MI said the Philippines must demand for better working conditions for its seafarers under the International Labor Organization’s Maritime Labor Convention of 2006.

Under the instrument, maritime sailors are guaranteed financial security in case of illnesses, injury or death while on an employment contract even without proving these are work-related.

“Unfortunately, the Philippine government doesn’t have an implementing law on this despite its nominal ratification in 2012 during the time of the late President Aquino,” MI said.

The group also expressed support to House Bill 4438, or the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, originally filed by Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party and the Makabayan bloc.

The proposed measure aims to provide seafarers with all-out protection before, during and after employment, specifically in the event of maritime accidents, epidemics or pandemics and other natural o man-made crises.

The migrants group however lamented that HB 4438 had been superseded by HB 7325 they said shipping and manning companies managed to sabotage.

MI said HB 7325 has an anti-seafarer escrow provision where the seafarer has to wait for many years until the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have affirmed a positive judgment from lower courts.

The group pointed out that this provision changes the long-held practice of labor cases being final and executory at National Labor Relations Commission level.

Seafarers now brand the bill as “Magna Carta of Ship-owners” as they are the beneficiaries, MI said. # (RBV)