Filipino seafarers short-changed big time on remittances

Filipino seafarers short-changed big time on remittances

In 2019 Filipino seafarers sent home a whopping $6,539,246,000. The amount represents 80% of their basic salaries, which is required by law to be remitted as family allotments and paid in Philippine currency. Alas, not all of the money went to the families. Unscrupulous manning agents got to keep part of it by using an exchange rate that is usually a peso lower than the official rate of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines).

One peso may not seem much. It certainly won’t buy the seafarer a cup of Starbucks coffee. But the total amount forfeited by seafarers’ families as a result of the forex manipulation could be mind-boggling.

The following calculations are based on the conservative estimate that 60% of total remittances in 2019 were converted into pesos using a reduced rate, the rest being properly converted by honest manning agents. The actual percentage should be much higher as short-changing on the remittances is quite common (ask any Filipino seafarer). Bank charges have not been taken into account, since they are minimal and some banks do not charge any fee for inward remittances.

NOTE: The total amount forfeited by the families of seafarers is equivalent to $75.75 mllion based on the 2019 average official forex rate. This is how much was possibly retained altogether by uncrupulous manning agents. 

The losses for the families of ship officers are obviously much bigger. Incredibly, there has been no public outcry over the dollar short-changing despite the scale of it. The local maritime press won’t even talk about the problem. As for the seafarers, most seem to have accepted the fact that being cheated if you’re a Filipino seafarer is part of life. Sadly, they are not mistaken in believing so.   

~ Barista Uno

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Seafarer remittances: Why the stealing won’t stop

Seafarer remittances: Why the stealing won’t stop

In a June 2018 post, I described how Filipino seafarers were being shortchanged in the conversion of their dollar remittances to pesos. Manning agents shave off at least one peso from the foreign exchange rate. Naturally, the families of seafarers get less than what they should. It is a form of thievery that has gone on for decades. And it will go on ad infinitum for a very simple reason: the rules make the scheme possible.

An opening for the unscrupulous

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) standard employment contract for Flipino seafarers requires the seafarer to send home once every month through any authorised Philippine bank at least 80 percent of his or her monthly basic salary. It states: “The allotments shall be paid to the designated allottee in Philippine currency at the rate of exchange indicated in the credit advice of the local authorized Philippine bank.”

That creates a neat opening for manning agents who have no scruples. The monthly remittances are not paid directly to the allottees. They go to the dollar account of the crewing company, which then takes care of the foreign exchange conversion. Since there is no vetting of the process, the company is pretty much free to use any rate in contravention of the POEA rulebook. Many, in fact, do.

Breach of the Maritime Labour Convention

The 80 percent remittance rule is apparently meant to discourage seafarers from squandering their money and ensure that their families back home get adequate monthly support. Having manning agents handle the forex conversion and disbursement to the families also seems convenient for all concerned. However, both practices are in breach of ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006.

The Convention states in Standard A2.2 – Wages under Regulations 2.2 – Wages:

4. Measures to ensure that seafarers are able to transmit their earnings to their families include:

 

(a) a system for enabling seafarers, at the time of their entering employment or during it, to allot, if they so desire, a proportion of their wages [emphasis added] for remittance at regular intervals to their families by bank transfers or similar means [emphasis added]; and

 

(b) a requirement that allotments should be remitted in due time and directly to the person or persons nominated by the seafarers [emphasis added].

 

5. Any charge for the service under paragraphs 3 and 4 of this Standard shall be reasonable in amount, and the rate of currency exchange, unless otherwise provided, shall, in accordance with national laws or regulations, be at the prevailing market rate or the official published rate and not unfavourable to the seafarer [emphasis added].

Tolerance and skewed mindset

Some manning agents in Manila rationalise the use of a conversion rate other than the official one by calling it “service charge”. But what right have they to impose such a charge when: 1) the banks already charge clients for every inward remittance; 2) manning agents are not licenced to render banking services or to operate as money changers; and 3) disbursing allotments is part of their service to their foreign principals?

It’s all a reflection of a damaged culture — a skewed mindset which considers it all right to cheat seafarers on their remittances because they earn in dollars. Surely, they wouldn’t mind sharing part of their good fortune? To top it all, the malpractice has failed to elicit an outcry from the seafarer unions and maritime NGOs. The local maritime press, not surprisingly, has stayed away from the issue. And so the stealing goes on… and on.

~ Barista Uno

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Immortal rivers in traditional Chinese art and poetry

Immortal rivers in traditional Chinese art and poetry

Immortal rivers in traditional Chinese art and poetry

Rivers are a common motif in traditional Chinese art and poetry. This should come as no surprise. According to the first national census of water, China had 22,909 rivers which had catchment areas of at least 100 sq. kilometres at end-2011. The longest of the seven major rivers — the Yangtze River (6,397 kms.) and the Yellow River (5,464 kms.) — were cradles of Chinese civilisation. Thousands of rivers are thought to have disappeared before the 2010-2011 census was taken. The culprits: rapid economic development, misuse and climate change. But China’s rivers will never really die. They have been immortalised in paintings and poems.

Water Album – The Yellow River Breaches its Course
Ma Yuan (c. 1160–65 – 1225)
Courtesy of Wikiart: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Clouds over the River before Rain, 1504
Shen Zhou (1427 – 1509)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

SPRING JOYS

When freshets cease in early spring
and the river dwindles low,
I take my staff and wander
by the banks where wild flowers grow.
I watch the willow-catkins
wildly whirled on every side;
I watch the falling peach-bloom
lightly floating down the tide.

Wei Ying-wu, 8th century (translation by Herbert A. Giles)

On the other side of water, 1694
Shitao (1642 – 1707)
Courtesy of Wikiart: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Parting at the Jing River, undated
Shen Zhou (1427–1509)
Courtesy of Wikiart: Visual Art Encyclopedia

TO HER LOVER

The tide in the river beginning to rise,
Near the sad hour of parting, brings tears to our eyes;
Alas that these furlongs of willow-strings gay
Cannot hold fast the boat that will soon be away!

Chao Ts’ai-chi, 15th century (translation by Herbert A. Giles)

Xiao and Xiang Rivers, 10th century
Dong Yuan (c. 934 – c. 962)
Courtesy of The Palace Museum, Beijing via Wikimedia Commons

River Landscape with Boatmen, Ming dynasty (?) (1368–1644)
Unidentified artist, in the style of Xia Gui (active c. 1195–1230)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

INSOUCIANCE

I wander north, I wander south,
I rest me where I please
See how the river-banks are nipped
beneath the autumn breeze!
Yet what care I if autumn blasts
the river-banks lay bare?
The loss of hue to river-banks
is the river-banks’ affair.

CK’eng Hao, 1032—1085 (translation by Herbert A. Giles)

~ Barista Uno

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Seafarers and STCW: The curse of revalidation

Seafarers and STCW: The curse of revalidation

All seafarers live under a curse. It is called revalidation. “Why the hell do I need to have my certificate revalidated?” Every seafarer must have asked the question at one time or another. It’s a fair question to ask. Neither knowledge nor experience has an expiry date. And yet, in many cases seafarers must show evidence every five years that they have maintained the standards of competence under the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).

The following table identifies all the certificates which authorise the holder to serve in certain functions on board merchant ships. It indicates which ones require endorsement, registration and/or revalidation. Since the outcome of any revalidation often depends on who performs it, officers and ratings could be told to undergo training courses they have already taken or don’t really need. Many sins have been committed in the name of STCW.

Source: STCW Convention and STCW Code including the 2010 Manila Amendments

It’s a strong witches’ brew. The mandatory revalidation of specified certificates adds to the training overload of seafarers; increases bureaucratic redtape; and robs seafarers of time and money they can devote to other things. Seafarers may hate it, but it gives those who revalidate the certificates power and control.

~ Barista Uno

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Waterfront photos from the distant past that will captivate you

Waterfront photos from the distant past that will captivate you

Waterfront photos from the distant past that will captivate you

Why anyone would want to linger inside a mall mystifies me. Malls are cold and boring, even dispiriting. There is more life, more energy on the piers and wharves as the following old photographs show. Time has taken its toll on some of these pictures. Yet each one still speaks volumes about the vibrancy of commerce on the waterfront and the sedulous stevedores who keep the cargoes moving.


There’s a certain energy, a rhythm that doesn’t seem to falter even when the shipment is colossal.”

~ ‘Rickmers-Linie is cool with coldboxes’, Marine Café Blog

 

(Click on the photos to enlarge them)

SS Kent moored opposite the Kings Head Hotel at Circular Quay Sydney, circa 1900
Photo by William Joseph Macpherson (1866-1923)
Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

Queen Elizabeth at City Quay, Dublin, circa 1900
Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Unloading whaleback, Buffalo (New York), between 1890 and 1901
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Hong Kong dock workers, between 1890 and 1930
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Free Labourers loading baskets of coal during the big strike, Sydney, 1917
Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales
Additional note from the State Library of NSW: Between 2 August and 8 September 1917, around 100,000 workers went on strike across Australia. Often called the “Great Strike” it especially affected the railway and waterside workers in Sydney.

Fishing boats unloading the day’s catch at the Fulton Fish Market (New York, N.Y.), 1939
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

SS Ulysses at a Sydney wharf loading wheat, circa 1934
Courtesy of Australian National Maritime Museum, Samuel J. Hood Studio Collection

Wool bales being loaded through hold of Magdalene Vinnen, 1933
Courtesy of Australian National Maritime Museum, Samuel J. Hood Studio Collection

Cargo hold in Magdalene Vinnen with crew men securing wool bales, 1933
Courtesy of Australian National Maritime Museum, Samuel J. Hood Studio Collection

New York, N.Y., banana docks, between 1890 and 1910
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Unloading bananas, New Orleans, between 1920 and 1926
Photo by Arnold Genthe (1869–1942)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Steamer J.T. Hutchinson leaving Sault St. Marie, 1903
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

~ Barista Uno

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