The maritime landscape in Manila would not be complete without the cadets who work as unpaid labour for the manning agencies and some seafarer unions. Individually and collectively, these cadets are commonly called ‘utility’. The term is descriptive of the many ways these aspiring ship officers are utilised. However, I would rather use the phrase ‘cadet flunkey — flunkey, meaning a person who does menial or trivial work for another, especially with unquestioning obedience. It is less demeaning and more accurate.

The following are some of the tasks cadet flunkeys are made to perform in exchange for being deployed eventually as apprentice–officers. I have seen worse, but these would–be ship officers never complain. Understanbly so, since the 12-month shipboard apprenticeship is a requisite for graduation in Philippine maritime schools.

Performing multiple office tasks. No doubt, the cadet flunkeys could make use of such skills as operating a fax machine or inputting data into a computer. But doing it for months and without pay?

Serving as doormen to screen visitors, including seafarers who are desperate for employment. The cadets may be required to be in their spanking cadet uniforms — just like the uniformed valets and porters of luxury hotels. Putting one’s best foot forward, as the expression goes.

Acting as messengers and all-around gofers. What manning agency or seafarer union cannot make use of extra hands? To have cadet flunkeys come running at one’s bidding is convenient for the staff, especially when they are craving for hot pizza from a nearby mall.

Cooking and serving as waiters. Cadet flunkeys are useful when crewing managers need to stay in the office for lunch. Or when there’s a small office gathering and outside catering services are not needed. But what have these tasks got to do with a future ship officer’s job? The cadet flunkeys are aspiring to become master mariners and chief engineers, not ship’s cooks or restaurant waiters.

Performing janitorial tasks (without being paid, of course), What could be more demeaning to a would–be ship officer than to be ordered to clean the office toilet and mop the floors? Some cadet flunkeys actually work as household servants.

Giving the boss a massage and driving for him or the missus. This is not internship, but plain servitude. But who in maritime Manila gives a hoot? It’s par for the course for a young person who dreams of sailing and seeing the world.

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