What do Africans think of Filipinos

Filipino sailors

More than 400,000 Filipinos work on board ocean ships, including cargo ships and tankers, as well as passenger and cruise ships. This makes the Philippines one of the leading sending countries for workers at sea. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the Philippine Labor Migration Agency, announced in 2015 that of almost 404,000 Filipino seafarers, around 161,000 belong to the category of non-nautical seafarers, i.e. that they do not work as machine or deck workers. Service occupations on board cruise ships are also assigned to this category, such as cabin attendant, waiters, bartenders, kitchen assistants and similar positions.

The basic salary of this group of crew members on the cruise ships is, in contrast to their nautical colleagues, extremely low and varies between US $ 175 and US $ 350 per month. This low wage level is partly justified by the fact that the basic salary is topped up with tips. However, this depends on the satisfaction of the guests and makes the employees vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. There are many documented cases of sexual, physical and verbal violence against employees on cruise ships by guests and supervisors.

“Filipino seafarers make up the largest national group on ships within the ethnically diverse workforce in the cruise industry. The fact that a relatively large number of Filipinos work in the service professions on cruise ships suggests that they are recognized as the 'perfect workforce'. A review of the literature from cruise lines, cruise passengers, the Philippine government and their agencies suggests that Filipino seafarers are considered workers with qualities such as 'hard working', 'flexible', 'submissive', 'family oriented', 'cheerful' and 'kind' 'are portrayed. " writes Mark Oliver Salariosa Llangco in his doctoral thesis about the working life of Filipino employees on board of cruise ships (p.57).

The 'perfect workforce' with imperfect contracts

Because of these attributions, Filipinos are perceived by the cruise industry as the 'perfect workforce' - their working conditions, on the other hand, are often highly problematic. From the moment they are recruited - when prospective seafarers are promised glamorous jobs and the chance to see the world - they are exploited. More and more cruise companies are establishing their own training centers, where future employees are trained primarily in the hotel and catering sectors at the company's expense. Even so, too many workers still have to go through expensive certification courses and training from recruitment agencies. There they often work as unpaid interns without any certainty that they will actually be employed.

If it comes to employment on a cruise ship, then this happens under the standard contract of the POEA (POEA Standard Employment Contract). Its main disadvantage is that the employment, which usually lasts between 3 and 11 months, is designed as a one-off employment relationship. There is no guarantee of a follow-up or even permanent position. The contracts have to be negotiated anew every time. It also makes no difference whether the Filipino cruise employees have only one or twenty employment contracts. In most cases, the Filipino migrant workers in the cruise industry never become permanent employees, but remain permanent workers.

Bad working conditions on board

The work on board the ships themselves can be monotonous, tiring and stressful. Despite regular working hours, employees often have to work overtime. They are also exposed to the elements and risks of a sea voyage. If they get sick or injured, it is often difficult to assert their rights. Because the POEA contract does not make it easy for seafarers to claim medical treatment, sickness benefits or disability benefits. In order to claim compensation for injury and illness, or death benefits, they must prove that their illness was caused by work. This is a long and difficult process that requires legal assistance. On the one hand, this is expensive and the chances of success are slim because seafarers' lawyers are often confronted with large professional law firms.

The social dimension of labor migration

The social costs of working on cruise lines affect not only the Filipino seafarers themselves, but also the communities from which they come. The effects are felt most strongly by the children. A UNICEF study by Melanie M. Reyes from 2008 sheds light on how the migration of parents, permanent or temporary, can be extremely stressful for children who long for parental care. Confusion about gender roles can arise, and children are more prone to abuse and develop atypical patterns of use. The absence of a parent in childhood can also have an impact in adulthood, e.g. through the increased occurrence of marital problems. However, the income of the absent parent also enables access to education and brings material advantages such as improved housing conditions.

The Philippine government as the engine of labor migration

Despite the social costs, the Filipino people are encouraged to work abroad, whether on cruise ships or on land. The government is pursuing a labor export strategy. The government's strong focus on exports from its own population is primarily due to the poor national economic situation, which is characterized by high unemployment. Remittances from migrant workers have become such an important pillar of the economy. According to data from the Philippine Bureau of Statistics, the sum of remittances sent into the country by seafarers was $ 5.6 billion in 2014. This corresponds to an increase of almost 10% since 2013. Reason enough for the government to keep Filipino seafarers underpaid, docile and without permanent employment.

Right now there is a risk that the rights of seafarers on cruise ships will be weakened even further in order to keep them 'marketable'. This should be achieved through a separate POEA contract. Many of the protective measures of the old treaty for seafarers would be removed. The government wants to enforce these contracts because its labor export strategy sees seafarers as goods that can be sold, rather than human beings with rights and dignity. They will therefore continue to be held up as the 'perfect workforce' in a not entirely flawless cruise industry. Only an organized and united voice of cruise sailors can break this system.

Edwin Dela Cruz is President of the International Seafarers Action Center (ISAC) Philippines Foundation, a nonprofit civil society organization that helps seafarers assert their rights and advocate for their welfare.