How dumb and foolish can some people be? The use of maritime cadets as unpaid labour by Philippine manning agencies is a clear case of exploitation. I would even call it a form of modern-day slavery. Yet, many Filipinos think it is perfectly normal. The arguments they make to justify this shameful practice are as nonsensical as the drawing of a servant (pictured above) by the 19th-century English painter and writer, Edward Lear.
Some try to dismiss the whole issue by saying It is the cadets’ choice to serve as gofers for the crewing companies. Such a cavalier attitude shows a lack of concern and empathy. The truth is that these cadets (a.k.a. “utility”, maritime flunkeys) are under a great deal of pressure. They have to board an ocean-going vessel on their fourth and last year in college to meet the 12-month shipboard apprenticeship required for graduation.
Some try to dismiss the whole issue by saying it is the cadets’ choice to serve as gofers for the crewing companies. Such a cavalier attitude shows a lack of concern and empathy.
Never mind the ignominy of being ordered by the company secretary to go out and buy pizza for the staff. Never mind waiting for months (more than a year in some cases) before getting to finally sail. It is a better option than foregoing with the all-important diploma — and ending up, as many cadets do, working in Manila as waiters, security guards and janitors.
The cadets can choose another path. But it is longer and no less painful, as anyone who has read the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) knows. In lieu of the 12 months of apprenticeship, the aspiring ship officer can join a vessel as a rating (e.g. able seaman, oiler or wiper). The catch is that he or she will have to undergo seagoing service for at least 36 months. And how many inexperienced cadets would be lucky enough to get hired in the first place?
Others try to rationalise the serve-for-sail practice by invoking the need to instill discipline in future ship officers. One manning CEO once told me that it was necessary to “break in” the cadets. The phrase he used was absurdly colourful. It reminded me of a new pair of shoes being tried out and softened with use by its owner.
This is yet another example of how seafarers have been commodified in the 21st century. Those who work at sea and cadets who aspire to become ship officers are like cans of Campbell’s Soup on a supermarket shelf. The people who have power over them feel that they can use them however they like. Given the decadent culture in Manila’s manning sector, should anyone be surprised?