Press Statement
25 June 2023

On the occasion of the International Day of the Seafarers, Migrante International extends its warmest greetings of solidarity with the seafarers of the world, the sea-based migrants that move the world.

We join the 75-year long fight of the global seafarers against the Flag of Convenience (FOC) scheme that has been imposed by the shipowners of the rich countries of the Global North to exploit the cheap labor of the seafarers of the Global South.  

Under the FOC system, the beneficiary owners of ships from the monopoly-capitalist states — like the USA, Japan, Norway, Germany, Australia, Sweden, Denmark. Greece, China and Russia — register their ships not in their own country but in some convenient state registry. Among these FOC states are Liberia, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, and small island states like Marshall Islands, Bahamas, St Vincennes and Grenadine, etc.  Governments of monopoly-capitalist countries do not care about labor conditions — wages, health, safety of workers — and the environmental compliance of the ships flying their flag of convenience. They have no effective labor, safety and environmental laws and policies for seafarers.

Seafarers come from the poorest countries of the Global South like the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and including the devastated Eastern European states like Ukraine. They get very low wages, bear the brunt of ineffective implementation of labor standards, and perform one of the globally-known most difficult and hazardous jobs. They suffer exploitation and oppression under the FOC system now made worse by neoliberal globalization.

In the Philippines, where more than a quarter of all international seafarers hail, the Ferdinand Marcos Jr government is focused on marketing them as cheap and docile labor under the Labor Export Program. This programme was started 50 years ago by his father, the fascist dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his then-Labor Secretary Blas Ople, father of current Department of Migrant Work secretary Susan Ople. The two scions are hell-bent on continuing the programme of their fathers which has resulted in the continuous misery of Filipino seafarers and fishers today.

Under Marcos Jr’s neoliberal labor policy, Filipino seafarers suffer from precarious work since they are perpetually considered as contractual workers — employed for 11 months or less — who do not attain regular status despite many years of service under the same employer. They are made to accept wages that are very low compared to those received by workers in the ship owning nations of the Global North who perform the same jobs.

Filipino workers are also made to spend so much for countless trainings, certification processes, tuition, and government fees and exactions before they can work on a ship, for a short period of not more than 11 months. After the contract, they do not enjoy security of tenure and have to join the long queue of some 300,000 jobless seafarers applying for jobs. This, despite successive contracts of service with the same shipowner and manning agency.

When Filipino seafarers suffer any illness or injury during the contract, they will only be compensated if they are able to prove that the illness or injury is work-related, in a very tedious process that requires expensive doctors and unscrupulous lawyers. This is in violation of the International Labor Organization Maritime Labour Convention of 2006 (MLC 20026) which imposes financial security to illnesses, injury or death while on an employment contract, without any need to show that these are work-related. The MLC 2006 was ratified nominally by the Philippine government in 2012 but, up to now, is still without an implementing law.  

The Magna Carta for Seafarers which was supposed to implement the ILO MLC 2006 has never been approved into law from the time of Benigno Aquino Jr. to that of Rodrigo Duterte and the current president Marcos Jr. Shipowners and manning agents have sabotaged the latest draft of the bill by inserting an anti-seafarer escrow provision where the seafarer has to wait for many years until the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have approved their awards from the labor courts below. This is an unprecedented imposition on labor cases which are traditionally considered final and executory after several layers in the National Labor Relations Commission have affirmed the seafarers’ winnings. Seafarers now brand the bill as “Magna Carta of Shipowners” as shipowners are the ones who will really benefit from it.

The oppression and exploitation of seafarers in the Philippines and all over the world must end. Migrante International unites with Filipino seafarers and the seafarers of the world in calling:

Junk the Flag of Convenience system! Fight neoliberal economic policies!
End the contractualization of seafarers and the Labor Export Programme of the Philippines!
Junk the Magna Carta of Shipowners bill! Legislate a genuine Magna Carta for Seafarers!
Ensure higher wages, job seafety, security of tenure and decent jobs for Filipino seafarers and the seafarers of all nations!
Seafarers, migrants and workers, unite and fight for a better world!