Barista Uno | marine-cafe.com
Plans are afoot to revise the standard employment contract for Filipino seafarers so that they’d get, amongst other benefits, four-and-a-half months leave in lieu of the current 2 1/2. We can understand the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) wanting to play up to the lads in the Year of the Seafarer. But the whole idea is unenlightened, if not entirely doltish.
The intention, apparently, is to allow seafarers to spend more time with their loved ones. This is all fine given the value Filipinos place on family. On the other hand, the POEA proposal assumes that seafarers abhor the idea of spending up to 12 months (the maximum allowable) at sea. Maybe so. Life at sea is hard and often dangerous. Yet, the stark reality is that scores of seafarers, even the old hands, are desperate to join a vessel in order to feed their families. Most would probably not even think of sailing if only they could find decent paying jobs on shore.
Imagine, too, the impact of the scheme on shipowners. The current rules stipulate that “days leaves shall not be less than two and a half (2 1/2) days for each month of service and pro-rated.” No need for a calculator to see that shipowners would be shelling out more for leave pay if the crew is granted longer leave. The same holds for the joining crew’s air passage, which is to the shipowner’s account, with crew rotation occurring more frequently. And woe to the shipowner whose manning agent in Manila doesn’t have enough qualified replacements for the fellows returning home for a nice, long vacation.
Seafarers certainly would get the short end of the stick. Anyone with an average IQ will understand that shorter-term contracts mean less money for the seafarer and his family. Already, seafarers are spending a fortune every time they prepare to go to sea – certification fees, medical check-ups, transportation, lunches and snacks, even grease money for the ever-outstretched government palms. They’ll likely spend the same amount to cover such items but this time for shorter periods of employment. The proposed longer-leave provision purports to give something to seafarers, only to rob them of what they now have. This is not only dumb. It is mean.
I think this gives an insight on how far the needs of Filipino seafarers are used against them to render their work a commodity. And how politicians can twist a much-needed initiative — the Year of the Seafarer — to serve their own purposes.