Preventing Seafaring Dreams From Turning Into Nightmares
The coming into force of the Maritime Labour Convention on 20 August 2013 has particular resonance in the Philippines - the world’s leading supplier of seafarers. As a result, Filipino seafarers will see huge improvements to their working conditions.
Being a seafarer was a childhood dream for Alex de La Cruz. He was raised in the southern part of the Philippines, where most of his neighbours and relatives were working as seafarers.
After completing a degree in engineering and working for several construction companies, Alex decided to pursue his dream on a cruise ship. Sixty-five per cent of its crewmembers were from the Philippines.
Working on board the cruise liner was a dream come true for Alex. But for some of his fellow seafarers, it was more like a nightmare.
“For us seafarers, the ship is not just our workplace, it’s our world,” he says. “There are times when we have to work for long hours, especially during emergencies. Since we’re inside the ship, we often find ourselves working at night and pushing heavy luggage though it’s not part of our duty, just to earn a few dollars.”
It was on board the ship that Alex learned about the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006), which was adopted by governments, seafarers’ and shipowners’ representatives at a special ILO maritime International Labour Conference in 2006.
“I first heard about the ILO on the ship. We were given orientation about the ILO, including violations to avoid. Our human resources department then introduced us to the MLC, 2006.”
“The Convention is important for us seafarers to ensure fair and decent working conditions,” says Alex. “It can also help us address our concerns relating to working hours, wages and benefits, including safety and welfare issues.”
Alex recalls an incident involving a fellow seafarer who was suddenly sent back to the Philippines after losing his job.
“I pitied him as the sole breadwinner. He had two children to support and to send to school but he lost his job. He wanted to defend himself but he felt he had no voice and no one to turn to. With the implementation of the MLC, I hope it will give representation and voice to seafarers, especially those at the bottom who sometimes feel discriminated against and who do not want to speak about their rights or report violations for fear of losing their job.”
Alex is one of the estimated 1.5 million seafarers worldwide who will benefit from the Maritime Labour Convention’s emphasis on enabling decent living and working conditions while at sea. The Convention has the strong support of organizations representing both the seafarers and shipowners, in that it also seeks to provide a level playing field and fair competition for them.
But his story is especially pertinent in the Philippines, which has been the world’s leading supplier of seafarers since 1987. One third of seafarers worldwide are Filipinos.
Dario Alampay, Jr., President of the Filipino Shipowners’ Association, Inc. (FSA) says the ratification and implementation of the Convention by the Philippines is very significant.
“This will show that the Philippines is ready to play in the international field to comply with all the maritime regulations which would give protection and benefits to Filipino seafarers serving the world merchant fleet,” explains Alampay.
Dr Conrado Oca, President of the Associated Marine Officers' and Seamen's Union of the Philippines says the MLC, 2006 is very important, especially to the hundred thousand Filipino seafarers they represent.
“It will make a major contribution to decent working conditions and to the improvement of the quality of life on board for Filipino seafarers. The Convention also deals with the regulation of the practice of recruitment and placement services, including prohibiting the black listing of seafarers that complain about conditions.”
Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz of the Department of Labour and Employment also believes that the MLC will lead to increases in productivity and competitiveness.
“The MLC will ensure fair and healthy competition among ships and shipowners for skilled, well-trained and competent seafarers. It will guarantee that ships are operated safely, leading to fewer problems for ship owners, manning agencies and seafarers,” says Baldoz.
After two years of working on a cruise ship, Alec will now be moving to a new job on a tanker. His wages and benefits will be triple what he used to earn but he’ll also face all the risks involved in working on a tanker ship.
Despite that, Alex has accepted the job offer. He knows that the money he’ll send back home can help his parents repair their home and pay for medical treatment for his father, who has a heart ailment.
He’s leaving his country with high hopes that the Philippines will be able to fully implement the MLC, 2006.