Wage Discrimination and Other Seafarers’ Woes

Limang taon akong walang trabaho. Sinuwerte naman at natanggap para makasakay sa isang barkong Danish-flagged,” (I was jobless for five years. Luckily, I was hired to work for a ship carrying the Danish flag.) said Ex, a seafarer who requested not to be named. He was hired as a third engineer (3/E).

His “luck” did not end there. “Nakapasa ako sa examination na ibinigay ng Danish Maritime Authority (DMA) at nabigyan ng Certificate of Competency (I passed the examination administered by the DMA and was given a Certificate of Competency),” he said.

Ex said the Certificate of Competency is a requirement that allows a foreign deck officer to work in a Danish International Ship (DIS) Registry vessel.

He began working in the ship, which he refused to identify, in December 2008.

His luck did not last long, however.

Undermanned, low salaried

Dalawampu’t dalawa kami sa barko: apat na Danish na opisyal, 18 Pinoy” (We are 22 on-board the ship: four Danish officers and 18 Filipino crew members),” Ex related.

Unlike what was promised, his salary was below the standard for Danish-owned ships.

Mababa ang suweldo, US$1,799, iba kaysa sa itinakda ng ITF-TCC” (The salary was low, only $1,799 unlike what the International Transport Workers’ Federation-Total Crew Cost has set), shared Ex.

The ITF-TCC is an agreement between the ship owners and the union, being represented by the ITF, which sets the standards of how the crew is to be compensated, from wages to other benefits.

Bulatlat obtained a copy of the ITF-TCC and it stipulated that 3/Es’ total wages should amount to $2,727.

Lumalabas, katumbas lang ang sahod namin sa nagtatrabaho sa isang barkong rehistrado sa Pilipinas” (It appeared that our salary is just like the salary of those who work for a Philippine Registry vessel), explained Ex.

Another problem is that the ship is undermanned, Ex told Bulatlat.

Kawawa ang junior officers kasi, sa kanila napupunta ‘yong karagdagang mga trabaho. Wala namang ekstrang bayad (The junior officers are the ones who are made to take on additional jobs, without additional pay),” he said.

He said that usually, around four additional tasks are given to each junior deck officer.

Whenever he remembers the cadets and new graduates who have joined their crew, Ex’s voice cracks.

Mga BSMT (Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation) graduates ‘yang mga ‘yan. Nagsumikap para makapagtapos ng apat na taong kurso. May apprenticeship pa ‘yang mga ‘yan, pero ang kinauuwian nila general purpose workers, mga tagalinis, tagapinta ng barko” (They’re BSMT graduates. They struggled to finish a four-year course.They even went through apprenticeship. But they ended up being general purpose workers: cleaners, ship painters), he said, shaking his head.

These newly grads, he said, are working for 14 hours straight and have been given additional loads, if the Danish officers wanted to.


During his five-month stint on that ship, he learned another secret of the company he had joined.

He said some of the crew members are directly-hired, which means they receive salaries even while not on board, while others come from manning agencies and can be “disposed of” by the company whenever it so desires.

Ex says the four Danish officers and four of the Filipinos are company-hired; the rest are contractuals. He did not say whether he himself was company-hired or contractual.

There is also discrimination in the food services, Ex told Bulatlat. The Filipinos are served food that is different from what is served to the Danish officers.

Puro cold cuts ang ulam namin, araw-araw” (We were served cold cuts, everyday), he said, with a hint of disgust.

Furthermore, the provision (food supply) is inadequate, Ex said. He narrated: “May pagkakataon na nagbiyahe kami, mula Espanya hanggang Angola. Isang buwang suplay lang ang dala namin. Bigla kaming nag-anchorage sa Angola nang isang buwan. Naku, sobrang hirap talaga! Mabuti na lang, mapamaraan ang mga Pinoy. Nangawil kami para may makain” (There was an instance when we traveled to Angola from Spain. Our provisions were only good for one month. Suddenly, we anchored in Angola for one month. Oh, it was really very difficult. It’s good that the Filipino crewmen are resourceful. We fished for additional food.)

Because of the salary, food and exploitation issues, he resigned and returned to the Philippines with just a few dollars in his pocket.

But he clarified that he was not forced by his employer to resign, and neither does he have plans to file labor cases against his principal and manning agency.

Seafarers deprived of their rights

“The rights of workers, that is, the right to be organized into unions, to collective bargaining, to security of tenure and to have a just and humane condition at work, are continuously being denied them, by capitalists who are only after profits. This is, despite the fact that these are embodied by the Constitution and other international legal instruments and conventions,” says Joseph T. Entero, a maritime labor lawyer, during a lecture about seafarers’ rights held early April.

Entero is one of the labor lawyers who founded the Union of Lawyers and Advocates for People’s Rights during the 1980s.

No unions, no CBA

“Every worker has the right to join a union, but it is unfortunate that most of our workers, both land-based and sea-based alike, are not unionized. Only 10 percent of the labor force is organized and only a small percentage of the seafarers are into unions,” he said.

The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work states that the “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining” is an essential right of workers.

Because of the low number of sea workers who are organized, only a few are also covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), he added.

“Collective bargaining is the process whereby workers organize together to meet, converse, and compromise on the work environment with their employers,” said Arthur Sullivan and Steven Sheffrin, in their book Economics: Principles in Action.

“It is the practice in which union and company representatives meet to negotiate a new labor contract,” they further said.

Collective bargaining is a type of negotiation between organized workers or employees and their employer or employers usually for determining wages, number of work hours, rules, and working conditions.

Entero said there are instances when what are being bargained for in the CBA are the rights which are already guaranteed by the ILO Declaration and other statutes, as well as by the Constitution. “Therefore, they are bargaining for the things that had already given them by the laws, by our own Constitution,” the labor lawyer said.

Yellow unionism, unjust rules by the State, and other threats to workers’ rights

“But what is more saddening is that the protection of rights and welfare, which is the primary aim of union formation, is only in theory. There are many unions which claim to be pro-worker, yet, they are being used by the capitalists or ship owners as exploitation instruments against the workers which they represent. Some of union officials accept bribes in return for dropping the complaints of their members,” said Entero.

This, according to Entero, defeats the right of the workers to self-organization.

In addition to these, says Entero, the State is also to blame for these abuses for issuing or creating rules and regulations, which are pro-capitalists.

“The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC), for instance, is being used by unscrupulous employers to deprive their workers what is due them. The amendments that were introduced to the 1996 POEA-SEC in 2000 and which has took effect in 2002 made it difficult for the complainants to claim the benefits denied them,” Entero explained.

But there is hope, said Entero. “And that hope lies to the hands of the working class, themselves. It is only if there is a strong organization of workers, a democratic union which truly represents the ideals and dreams of workers, that we can win the fight for better working conditions and maybe, a better world,” he said. (First appeared in Bulatlat.com)