You are here

Walking the gray line for seafarers

Walking the gray line for seafarers
Yashika F. Torib January 18, 2023

FILIPINO seafarers are celebrated globally for their competence, resilience, diligence, communications skills and inherent affability.

To the world, they are the most preferred seamen; to their countrymen, they are heroes.

But what Niño Torrevillas sees behind all the accolades is a group of professionals who are still prone to abuse despite all the progress in labor regulations.

Torrevillas is the Cebu-based inspector of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), an affiliate-led federation recognized as the world's leading transport authority. It connects nearly 700 affiliated trade unions from 150 countries, the Philippines included.

Since his appointment in August 2022, Torrevillas has been swamped with appeals from Filipino seafarers who complain about repatriation and salary discrimination onboard ships.

Such injustices to his countrymen sparked the man's innate tenacity and candidness.

"Seafarers who have been working for months are not receiving the pay they deserve. They are prone to abuse since some ship owners, until now, still think that they could get away with cheating seamen with their salaries," Torrevillas said bluntly.

The young Cebuano was known among his friends and colleagues as an outspoken person bold enough to push for things that are stuck in the gray areas of the law.

"This is where we inspectors come in — we fight for the seafarers, we demand what is due to them, and we serve as their voice against abusive employers. Being in legal and public relations before I was appointed ITF inspector, I am used to walking the gray lines to accomplish what is needed. The only difference now is that I utilize my skills for the people I believe in and care for," he said.

Torrevillas was influenced by his grandfather, a seafarer who opened his eyes to the struggles of working at sea and how it affected their families.

He did not follow in his grandfather's footsteps, however. He armed himself instead with knowledge of the law to advocate for the labor sector. He took up a bachelor's degree in political science and pursued a Juris Doctor degree, graduating with the highest honors in 2018.

"My passion for seafarers started after teaching maritime students in college. I particularly witnessed how my students struggled as a cadet onboard a ship. I started thinking that there must be something I could do to help them. That was when I familiarized myself more with the laws and rights of seafarers," he said.

Come 2022, he was recommended by the Associated Philippine Seafarers Union for the position of ITF inspector in Cebu.

"The job is demanding but fulfilling. I always look forward to receiving an email, a text or a Facebook message from a seafarer saying that they were finally able to go home, or that they have already received the differentials in their salaries. That is my favorite part of the job," he remarked.

Reflecting on the seafaring stories he grew up with and the first-hand experiences he's had as a maritime professional, Torrevillas shared that "if there is one lesson I learned from the sea is that it is brute as it is kind. It is around us and over us. We came from the sea and eventually to the sea we will return," he said.