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)

Filipino victim at Abu Dhabi gas explosion was on his way to a medical check

Clark Gasis’ wife Elna says he was a loving husband and a doting father

By Angel L. Tesorero

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: One of the two Filipinos who died following a gas explosion at an Abu Dhabi restaurant on Monday was on his way for a medical check ahead of his visa renewal, a family said.

Elna Villason Gasis, 32, wife of the deceased Clark Gasis, 38, said: “My husband seldom left the house as he was working from home. On that day (August 31), he dropped me off to work at 8am. Then he went to his office to get some papers and proceeded for his medical check-up.”

“At around 10.30 am, our office chat group was abuzz with news of the restaurant blast. I immediately messaged my husband because we used to live near the restaurant – a family favorite – along Rashid Bin Saeed Street. When I did not get any reply, I decided to call him but his phone was off. I called him four more times but his phone was not ringing. At 1pm, during lunch break, I decided to go to the clinic to check if my husband was still there. I had no cash with me, so I borrowed Dh50 from a friend for a taxi. I was very anxious and my fears were growing.”

Elna said she called her husband’s office but a workmate told her Clark had not returned. She said she then went to the restaurant area and from afar, could see her husband’s car.

Elna with her husband and kids in happier times. (Gulf News photo)

“I found a way to get nearer and saw the car was empty. There were only papers, some bread and a half-empty water bottle,” she recalled.

She said her worst fears came true. In the evening, her friends broke the news to her.

“My friends prepared me dinner as I hadn’t eaten the whole day. Gently, they broke to me the heart-breaking news – my husband was one of the confirmed casualties. The following day, I also got a call from the Philippine Embassy. They assured me that they will provide all necessary assistance,” Elna added.

Loving husband, doting father

Elna said she still could not believe his husband is gone.

She described Clark as a “very loving husband and doting father”.

“Very kind, patient, hardworking, considerate and thoughtful – that was my husband,” Elna said. “Even if he was busy working, he would find time to cook and do other household chores. And after a day’s work, he would spend time with our kids – aged five (girl) and four (boy) – and do Zumba. He was also very focused on our kids’ online classes,” she said.

Elna with her husband and kids in happier times. (Gulf News photo)

“He was just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she continued.

Elna described Clark as her best friend and confidante. They came from the same province of Surigao del Sur in southern Philippines. They became friends in 2008.

In 2013, Clark decided to come to the UAE to find work and Elna followed afterwards. They got married in 2014 and soon had two kids who were born and raised in the UAE.

Clark worked as an Autocad draftsman while Elna has been employed as an office staff at a vehicle insurance company.

The couple just celebrated their son’s fourth birthday on August 29.

Bleak future

With two young kids, Elna, who is under her husband’s visa, said “the future suddenly looks bleak”.

“My husband always had a plan. We had started building our family house in Surigao and I don’t know how it will be finished, now that’s he’s gone,” Elna shared. “My two young kids still can’t fully absorb what happened to their father. My daughter, who has seen me crying these past two days, tells me: ‘Don’t worry, Ma. Just go to the hospital and hug Dad’.”

Despite the tragedy, Elna said she is mustering enough courage for the sake of her two kids.

“My husband’s death was tragic, but I would rather choose to celebrate his life,” she said. “But I still don’t know how I will be able to raise my kids alone. I need all the help I can get to ensure my kids will have a good education,” she added.

Elna said the immediate task before her was to take her husband’s remains to the Philippines. #

= = = = =

This report is original to Gulf News.

Migrants ready for NDFP-GRP talks in Rome; negotiations to focus on socio-econ reforms

MIGRANT FILIPINOS in Italy are ready for the third round of formal negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) this week.

As the venue of the peace talks shifts to the ancient city of Rome on January 19 to 25, migrant organizations are taking the opportunity to express support to the negotiations by organizing a rally and forum midway through the round on January 22.

Various Migrante International chapters and other Filipino organizations throughout Italy would be attending a rally supporting the peace talks, including Migrante-Milan, Migrante-Bologna, Kapitbisig Migrante-Milan, Migrante –Mantova, Migrante- Caserta, Migrante-Firenze, Gabriela-Rome, Italo-Filipino Friendship Association, and the International Committee on Human Rights in the Philippines.

Italians and other nationalities are also expected to attend the rally to be held at Rome’s Plaza Esquilino from nine to 11 in the morning, the organizers said.

“The event would be to support the peace talks here in Rome and to show to both the GRP and the NDFP panels our interest in the progress of their negotiations,” Umangat Migrante coordinator and Gabriela Rome founder Weng Flores said.

Flores said many fellow migrants expressed delight when they found out that the third round of talks would be held in Rome

Both the GRP and the NDFP asked the Royal Norwegian Government to facilitate the third round of talks in Italy as Norway was deemed to be too cold for many negotiators during winter.

Peace forum

After the morning rally, migrants will hold a peace forum organized by the Sentro Pilipino Socio-Cultural Committee and Umangat-Migrante in the afternoon.

Both the NDFP and the GRP are invited to send speakers to the forum.

“It would be an opportunity for both parties to explain why the peace talks are important to migrants like us.  We hope they could explain to us what the NDFP’s agenda are and the GRP’s response to them,” Flores said.

“More importantly, we wish to be informed of our role in the process and the solutions they have regarding labor migration,” she added.

Another peace forum shall be held in Milan in northern Italy on January 28, three days after the scheduled conclusion of the formal negotiations on the 25th.

The forums follow a similar event held in Rome last November attended by NDFP Negotiating Panel member Coni Ledesma and senior adviser Luis Jalandoni.

Flores said more of their compatriots and friends in Italy have become interested in the peace process.

Focus on socio-economic reforms

Meanwhile, both the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels said they are ready for the start of the formal talks on Thursday which will focus on socio economic reforms.

“We are all set and ready to engage the NDF in the discussion of all substantive agenda, including supplemental agreements needed to proceed and arrive at a peaceful negotiated political settlement to end the armed conflict in the country,” GRP Negotiating Panel chairperson Silvestre Bello III said.

The GRP is set to fly to Rome Monday evening.

The NDFP for its part said they agreed with the GRP proposal that the third round of talks would focus on the socio-economic substantive agenda.

“We agreed to GRP’s suggestion to the Royal Norwegian Government that we focus on socio-economic reforms (SER) on this round because this is the meat of the peace talks,” NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said.

Agcaoili said both parties agreed to spend three days negotiating on SER and one day on political and constitutional reforms, the Joint Monitoring Committee and other issues. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)