Unions welcome the saving of 50,000 Filipino seafarers’ jobs

Unions have welcomed a decision from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) that will mean that up to 50,000 Philippines-certified crew will still be allowed to work aboard ships owned or operated by EU companies

EMSA recently announced that it would continue to recognize Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) certificates issued by Philippines-based training providers after the country’s president made moves to address long-standing problems with the seafarer training systems in the Philippines.

As long ago as 2006 EMSA identified deficiencies, and it had continued to find problems in the 13 inspections it had conducted since. The agency’s most recent audit, held last year, led to a “final warning”.

Seafarers’ union the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said that it was “relieved to see EMSA pulling back from the brink with this decision and avoiding the risk of losing 50,000 of the world’s finest maritime professionals from working aboard European vessels”.

ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton said that he was “sure that is very welcome by the European shipowners just as it is by Filipino crew, their families and their unions”.

He noted that $6.54bm in wages were sent home by Filipino crew working on international ships in 2019.

However, he agreed that “sadly, the quality and certification systems Filipino crew need to be able to rely on, have been lacking for some time now”. The ITF and its Philippines-based affiliates had been advocating for years for Manila to iron out the country’s inconsistent training outcomes, and sacking the underperforming providers who consistently certificated insufficiently trained crew.

The ITF is advising the Marcos government on training improvements.

Marcos ordered in December the establishment of a high-powered advisory council made up maritime industry experts. Representatives from the ITF, shipowners’ association ICS, and other industry bodies will form the new ‘International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs’ (IACGMA). Its first task will be to advise on the training and certification reforms needed, but it will face dealing with a multitude of government ministries and agencies on complex maritime sector issues.