The family of a Filipino seafarer has received no pay for more than two months after Manila-based manning agency Able Maritime Seafarers Inc performed a last-minute contract switch.
Meanwhile, the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which regulates manning agencies, has reinstated Able Maritime after a brief suspension despite a flood of complaints from seafarers. There is clear-cut evidence people at the agency have been charging placement fees (which is illegal) and switching contracts at the last minute to deprive seafarers of reasonable pay and conditions.
“It’s outrageous that Able Maritime should be permitted to continue,” said Steve Trowsdale, the ITF’s Inspectorate Coordinator. “The ITF knows of 57 cases where fishers and their families are complaining against Able Maritime and another 15 by seafarers over the charging of placement fees. Many of these have already been notified to the POEA. Its policy appears to be to suspend rogue agencies when issues are raised and then to quietly reinstate them when it thinks no-one is watching. Guess what POEA? We’re watching.”
In the latest case, the wife of a fisher has been denied pay by Able Maritime and fears a last-minute contract switch may make it impossible for her to claim the money she is owed and urgently needs to feed her family.
Her husband left home for the tuna longline fishing vessel Glory No. 8 (IMO 8520056) on 11 August but, to date, no salary has been paid to his family. His wife has written to the POEA, asking it to intercede.
"Please do help me… not only me because, for sure, there are plenty out there who are starving right now because of this heartless agency [Able Maritime],” Regine Malabanan Davis wrote to the POEA. “On their behalf, I am begging for your help. We have families to feed and bills to pay. Please help us get the justice we deserve.”
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) red listed Able Maritime Seafarers Inc on its ITFShipBeSure.org website on 21 October, advising seafarers to avoid using the crewing agency. It did this after a number of cases came to light where the agency switched contracts at the last minute, meaning that seafarers received much less pay and endured poorer conditions than they were initially promised.
This case reveals a new twist in Able Maritime’s modus operandi. The fisher was first offered work in March this year with the expectation that he would be starting almost immediately. There followed a series of delays during which he was given the impression that work would start very soon. Finally, in August, he was given plane tickets to Busan, Korea where the fishing vessel was berthed.
The day he was due to travel, he was asked to sign a contract but it was not in the name of Able Maritime but instead that of a completely different manning agency: GMM Global Maritime Manila Inc.
According to his wife, when he asked Able Maritime about the change he was told “don't worry about it — you're still working under our agency. We just use this agency for contract signing.”
GMM Global Maritime Manila first told Mrs Davis it has no connection with Able Maritime and then that it only arranged paperwork. Able Maritime has not responded to her requests for an explanation. It is also ignoring her demands to be paid. Her husband has told her that several other seafarers on the Glory No.8 were also asked by Able Maritime to sign contracts with GMM Global Maritime Manila. The latter agency currently has its licence suspended by POEA.
Taking advantage of desperate seafarers
“There is a pattern in the way unscrupulous manning agencies work,” said Trowsdale. “They promise good pay and conditions but then keep people hanging on. Eventually, seafarers become so desperate for work, they’ll sign anything. This case is particularly insidious. Because the contract purports to be with a different agency, it makes it very difficult for seafarers or their families to pursue legal claims and get the money that is rightfully theirs.”
Trowsdale said he joins with Mrs Davis in asking the POEA to sort the situation out so that seafarers can be paid what they are owed.
“Until the POEA takes proper action, agencies like Able Maritime will continue to get away with scamming seafarers,” Trowsdale said. “Until the POEA lives up to its responsibilities, seafarers and their families will continue to suffer.”