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ITF targets abusive manning agents in new campaign

ITF targets abusive manning agents in new campaign
CIH June 28, 2023

NO doubt the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) is already quite busy in its various campaigns against so-called Flags of Convenience (FOC), abandonment of seafarers and other advocacies; it now wants to get rid of some bad actors in the local manning community.

The global transport group has started to train its eyes on some corrupt and abusive manning agencies that have been taking advantage of their seafarers by launching another campaign dubbed A Fair Deal from Manning Agents on the sidelines of the highly successful three-day ITF Seafarers' Expo 2023.

Filipino seafarers entering the Expo at the CCP Complex in Pasay City last June 23-25 were invited to support the new campaign by signing their names on a huge whiteboard manned by an ITF volunteer from Australia, where "A Fair Deal from Manning Agents" was written in bold letters.

"It's an ITF campaign supported by APSU (Associated Philippine Seafarers' Union) and Amosup (Associated Marine Officers' and Seamen's Union of the Philippines)," explained Rory McCourt, maritime communications manager of ITF.

He said the campaign was targeting, among others, manning agencies that ripped off their seafarers' pay by P1 or P2 and sometimes more, below the official peso-US dollar exchange rates for the day, and other schemes that manipulate the peso-dollar exchange rates to their advantage and the detriment of seafarers and their families.

One of these is delaying the crew's pay. "They take a bunch of the allotments, and they choose the time that they pay out to seafarers' families (allottees). They get the US dollars and pay in pesos," he said.

McCourt said he knew some reputable employers that pay their manning agents here three to six months in advance because they wanted their seafarers to have regular pay, say on the 15th of the month, to be paid on time. Some manning agents, however, delay their seafarers' pay.

"This is convenient for the manning agent, but it's not necessarily always convenient for the benefit of the seafarers and their families. You're not allowed to manipulate it; it's supposed to be paid out; there's a regular on-time payment."

Besides, McCourt added, "there's a lot of picking and choosing that goes on for the most convenient exchange rate from the manning agents." It is an open secret in the local manning community that some manning agencies pay their crew below the official exchange rates.

He said there should be some regulation to protect seafarers from these manipulations of the peso-dollar exchange rates.

Moreover, the second big issue of the campaign is the inability of the government to prosecute blatant violators of seafarers' rights. McCourt said erring companies could easily get away with their violations.

He made mention of a certain company that was exposed by the ITF for leaving fishermen abandoned and unpaid, and their families didn't know where their loved ones were for months.

"This was a heartbreaking case that happened again and again... [before] this company popped up again with a family member. So, we need to have rigorous ways of banning these companies when they do happen," the ITF official said.

He hastened to add that the government was also accountable for this issue. "The issue must have been on the government side; the fact that it took so long for them to get banned and then once they were banned, they were back registered very quickly.

"That has to stop. They should be banned for life. They should be banned until there's very clear proof that they're there for the seafarers and the industry. They bring shame to the Philippine maritime industry."

Another issue is manning agencies that collect placement or recruitment fees from their crew and sometimes even from cadets.

"This is illegal, of course, but we need to crack down on them since, often, this can bind a seafarer to this agency for longer periods, creating all sorts of problems for seafarers," McCourt pointed out.

These are companies that collect placement fees and sometimes use them to deny seafarers their rights under the Maritime Labor Convention, and since seafarers "think there's a debt over their heads, they're very unlikely to put up their hands" and assert their rights.

It could lead to what the ITF calls modern-day slavery, McCourt said.