Shipping industry, unions welcome Filipino president’s assurance to comply with EMSA standards 

On December 13, leaders from organizations representing seafarers, shipowners and other maritime employers, met with Philippine’s president Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr, as part of his foreign policy tour in Brussels. 

Marcos Jr ordered a new advisory board to be made up of employers, shipowners and unions and the ILO, to give expert advice on major maritime issues, specifically on the immediate concern of employers and crew that as many as 50,000 seafarers faced being barred from crewing European Union-flagged vessels over qualification issues.

The threat is due to a warning from the bloc’s maritime regulator that the Philippines needed to address unacceptable deficiencies in crew’s education, training and certification. Failure to do so would push out Filipino seafarers, a labor source so critical that one delegate described as “too big to fail”.

Delegates were reassured to hear Marcos pledged that his administration will do “everything” to address these deficiencies identified by the European Commission’s Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) “to prevent job losses among Filipino seafarers,” he said.

Delegates also urged Marcos to defend Filipino jobs, by reforming the country’s problematic seafarers claims industry.

While intended to secure speedy resolution and compensation for injured and aggrieved crew, the injury claims industry system today sees seafarers’ hardship and goodwill exploited by ambulance-chasing lawyers.

The victimization of Filipino seafarers by people or groups to make fraudulent and costly injury claims against their employers, has resulted in companies to look elsewhere for their seafarer workforce.

In 2000, Filipino crew made up 28.5% of the global seafarer population, however by 2020, that figure had dropped to just 14%. Any further decline would jeopardize the US$6.54b in wages Filipino seafarers send home each year to their families – money critical to the Philippines economy.

Seafarers’ unions, including Philippines-based AMOSUP, have supported employers’ calls for a crackdown on the unethical practices of the claims industry, who, they say, “capitalize on the hardships and even the demise of seafarers.”

Marcos said he had ordered his Department of Migrant Workers minister, Secretary Susan ‘Toots’ Ople, to establish a maritime advisory committee to address the training issue and consider reforms to the broken seafarers’ claims system.

The International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs (IACGMA) will draw on experts from both industry and the workforce to support the Philippines’ government. IMEC, ICS, ITF and the International Labor Organization will all be invited to share their expertise.

The meeting with Marcos in Belgium represents the first official engagement of IMEC, ICS and ITF, with a national leader, since the bodies recently signed an MOU with the aim of maximizing the impact of their advocacy efforts on behalf of crew and industry.

ICS Secretary General Guy Platten said: “Seafarers are at the very heart of our industry and cannot be forgotten as we look to the future. Every member of the delegation meeting with President Marcos Jr today recognizes this and we ensured that our seafarers were not lost sight of. As a major seafaring nation, the Philippines is key to our industry and its future, and collaboration and cooperation with governments is vital.

“Our industry’s importance cannot be underestimated and the collective representation within the maritime sector today shows the willingness to work together for a brighter future. As ever our industry strives to find solutions to the challenges ahead, ensuring safe shipping operations for the effective continuation of global trade. We look forward to working more closely with the Philippines.”

The meeting followed another high-powered meeting December 12 with Marcos’ new secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers (DWM), Susan “Toots” Ople. Seafarers’ unions were keen at both meetings to emphasize to the leaders that major opportunities lay before the country – but that the right choices had to be made to secure them.

ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton added: “The Philippines is a crewing powerhouse. Filipino seafarers have contributed much to our global shipping industry over the decades.

“But it is not without its issues. That’s why it was encouraging for seafarers’ unions to hear President Marcos acknowledge some of those issues in Brussels. Better yet, the president has already started to take action with the establishment of a new tripartite maritime advisory body.”

Photo credit: iStock/ Denys Yelmanov

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