A Filipino seafarer who remains stranded in Fiji, New Zealand has exposed the illegal activities of the manning agency that sent them overseas and eventually abandoned them without pay.
Fourth Engineer John Iyod Restauro narrated to The Manila Times how Able Maritime Seafarers Inc. deceived him numerous times during his pre-employment and deployment procedures.
“I got to know Able Maritime through one of their recruitment advertisements. I badly needed a job then and so I took the opportunity to apply,” he began.
Restauro’s eagerness to be employed resulted in flying back and forth, three times, from his hometown in Cebu to the agency’s office in Manila.
“They kept on lying about my schedule of embarkation. They once asked me to go to Manila as I was supposedly about to be deployed for New Zealand only to be told later that the schedule is moved to September. They did the same in November and once more in December. They had me traveling back and forth and I was spending a lot on airfare.
“What’s worse was when they called me on December 28 and demanded that I go back to Manila as I already have a schedule. When I got there, I was told that my deployment is still up for confirmation! I had no more funds then to return to Cebu and so I had no choice but to spend the New Year in Manila, alone and jobless,” Restauro lamented.
The young marine engineer remained hopeful that he will soon get hired and even paid for his medical examinations twice.
The law states that pre-deployment medical examinations for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are shouldered by manning agencies.
“I had to pay for everything. The agency also asked me and the other crew to sign a contract that is different from the one issued by POEA. This one lowered our wages to almost half of the stipulated salary. It also stated conditions that we do not agree with but we were forced to sign anyway because the contract was given just before our flight.”
When Restauro and the rest of the crew completed their six-months contract, Able Maritime refused to repatriate them unless they pay for their fare.
23 months later, the agency was still saying the same thing – “you have to buy your ticket.”
It was then that Restauro brought the matter up to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Wellington, New Zealand, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) – a move that only made matters worse for the crew.
“Our principal abandoned us in the middle of the night when they found this out. I am now without work for the past eight months here in Fiji,” he lamented.
“Able Maritime refused to help me since. What they only did was blame me for what happened. They said it was my fault and they do not owe me anything, not even my back pay. I have been working for three months before I received my first salary which only covers the first month of work. All this time, the allotment they have sent to my family is only P14,000.
“They were also spreading lies, telling people that they paid for my fare and expenses here. None of that is true,” he revealed.Soon to be on ITF’s Red ListDue to this issue and two other cases – the first is paying only 40% of the agreed wages and sending the crew to a vessel that is well below the minimum safety standards, and the other for a Filipino seafarer who’s missing for the past eight months and telling his wife that he is just “somewhere” in the Indian Ocean – Able Maritime is already close to being red-listed by ITF.
Agencies who are on ITF’s red list are those with confirmed evidence of non-compliance with the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) or engaged in any other activity that violates seafarers’ rights.
“If Able Maritime Seafarers Inc and the POEA are unable to provide satisfactory responses to our serious and pressing questions, then we in the ITF will have no choice but to formally red list this manning agency and issue a worldwide alert through our networks warning seafarers of the potential dangers of engaging with this company,” Steve Trowsdale, ITF Inspectorate Coordinator, said on their website.
The ITF is likewise asking POEA officials to explain how it decided to reinstate Able Maritime just a few weeks after it was suspended.
“Until agencies like Able Maritime Seafarers Inc. step up to their responsibilities, and until regulators like POEA do their job regardless of whether the television cameras are rolling then seafarers will not be safe and respected working abroad,” Trowsdale said.
“We should put an end to this. A lot of seafarers have suffered and they cannot continue doing this to us. This is traumatic for us who simply wanted to work,” Restauro said.