The exploitation of seafarers in the 21st century is so systematic and so efficient that it can be compared to a state-of-the-art engine. In spite of ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and incessant talk of mariners’ rights, the engine will not stall anytime soon. In fact, it seems to be roaring at greater speed, past the huge crowd of maritime do-gooders and well-meaning bureaucrats. There is plenty of fuel to keep it running, no thanks to the following:
The Great Money Chase
Seafarers’ rights tend to be shoved aside when companies as well as individuals scramble to get more money. In this grand marathon, the big corporate runners are always in the lead. Woe to seafarers and the other small runners, who try to reach the finish line, not to win any prize, but just to survive.
The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) has been a boon to business but a bane to seafarers. The introduction of more and more training requirements has resulted in a training overload that is costing seafarers time, money, and more stress. The irony is that the world continues to witness serious marine accidents.
Failure of shipowners to vet their manning agents
A case in point is the thievery involving the dollar remittances of Filipino seafarers. Shipowners do not bother to check if the funds they remit to Manila (at least 80% of a seaman’s monthly salary as required under Philippine government rules) are released to the families based on the prevailing foreign exchange rate. A periodic audit of the manning agency’s disbursements in this area would help address the problem. Why aren’t foreign principals doing it?
Sell-out by some unions
Some unions play footsie with manning agents and manning associations to protect their own interests. They may keep mum on certain issues that affect the welfare of seafarers in order not to disturb the status quo and jeopardise their collective wage agreements.
Inadequate media coverage of abuses
Some cases of abuses against seafarers may receive attention from the maritime press. But by and large, shipping publications give a lot more space to business news and feel-good stories (many of which are press releases). Not so surprising. Many maritime editors and reporters like to kiss ass. Doing so has become a survival tool in the dense jungle of news publishing.
Use of rhetoric and slogans
Rhetoric and slogans can be useful in driving home a message. Very often, however, they gloss over the fact that seafarers continue to be treated like commodities and exploited at every turn by various parties. Praising seafarers to high heavens on the International Day of the Seafarer does not help one bit. The exploitation goes on.
Silence of seafarers
Seafarers tend not to openly complain about malpractices committed by manning agencies. They just want to attend to their careers. They don’t want to be singled out and blacklisted by employers. Their hesitance to speak up is understandable, but it provides encouragement to those who would abuse them.
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