Twenty-one crewmembers serving on the Liberian-flagged vessel Vega-Reederei have organized a picket line at the Port of Long Beach, CA, to protest their employer’s failure to pay workers for up to four months of back wages. Abuses of seafaring crew are common in the global shipping industry, and workers often hail from low-wage counties with few rights.
The crew of mostly Filipino nationals is seeking assistance from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and support from dockworkers belonging to the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU).
A German company, Arend Bruegge, is listed as the ship’s operator, and is said to owe workers more than $150,000 in unpaid wages. The company has a history of failing to pay crewmembers on other vessels operated by the Hamburg-based firm.
On Wednesday, desperate crewmembers contacted Stefan Mueller-Dombois, an Inspector for the International Transport Workers’ Federation in Southern California. The crew pleaded for the ITF to help because workers’ families living in the Philippines haven’t received any wages in months and are going hungry.
The ITF has been working with ship operator to reach a settlement, but company officials were refusing to negotiate with Mueller-Dumbois, and threatened to leave the berth without paying crewmembers.
The ship is carrying a cargo of wind turbines. At the ship’s previous port of call in Korea, the company made promises to pay but failed to do so. Workers were told that complaints about the failure to pay would cause the company to replace them with a Chinese crew.
Eleven of the ship’s seafaring crew say the company has kept them on board the ship beyond the original commitment, and are demanding to be repatriated and flown home to the Philippines immediately.
“It appears that this company has done this before by refusing to pay crewmembers on the ships they operate, “ said ITF West Coast Coordinator Jeff Engels. “The crew are seeking justice and support from other maritime workers in the area.” Engels said that ITF Inspector Stefan Mueller-Dumbois is contacting the ship’s owners to seek immediate payment for the crewmembers – and a written agreement that will prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
“Our job is to help crewmembers from being exploited by powerful, international corporations that own and operate these vessels,” said Engels.