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Blacklisting and the truth on COVID-19

By: ATTY. DENNIS R. GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | April 21,2020 - 07:00 AM

 

Fear of blacklisting might be  causing the unexplained under-reporting of the consequences of the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic on seafarers.

“There is an unnecessary fear of telling the truth thereby potentially causing panic in what could be a long-haul,” says David Hammond, CEO of the UK-based charity organization Human Rights at Sea.

Seafarers have been at the front lines of maintaining the trade flowing during the pandemic.

Hammond noted that people are mostly hearing the positive and often stoic narratives of those seafarers who are staying onboard, keeping calm and carrying on, maintaining global supply lines and remaining at sea for the global common good.

However, he lamented that there is a problem as to “the real details of the alternative reality and of the uncomfortable stories reflecting the consequences of those not fortunate enough to have the support of the big commercial companies who are pushing this stoic messaging. Without this, we have an incomplete and less-than-transparent picture of what is occurring.”

“It is now time to tell the whole truth, including the good, the bad and the ugly of the ramifications of COVID-19 on the silent heroes who will keep us supplied and alive in this unprecedented global crisis,” says Hammond.

Seafarers are facing numerous challenges in performing their activities including longer duration of their employments on vessels amid bans on crew-changes and restriction of travel. Anxiety is growing among  seafarers caused by non-payment or underpayment of wages, contracts being extended without consent while other seafarers are stranded in foreign ports without wages or flights home.

They  are also calling  for greater levels of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like face masks and gloves to be made more widely available, not just for themselves, but for those maritime workers who come onboard their vessels.

Hammond’s query is whether or not there’s a deliberate suppression of the facts and ground-truth, careless under-reporting, or just a convenient avoidance of the inconvenient truth on seafarers and the COVID-19 crisis.

Unfortunately, Hammond noted that many seafarers are usually reluctant to air formal complaints due to the so-called “blacklisting”, a practice used to prevent certain seafarers from being employed.

Blacklisting of seafarers can either be “legal” and “illegal”.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) comes up with a blacklist (also called watchlist) of seafarers as a form of legal sanction if administrative complaints  are filed against them.

Seafarers who face penalties after final judgment are blacklisted. Included in the list are those disqualified from overseas employment until cleared by the POEA or until their suspension is served or lifted.

However, illegal blacklisting became a hidden industry practice where manning agencies make communications that tend to influence or prejudice the mind of any employer against the person seeking employment.

Blacklisting is the nefarious practice of blocking future employment of seafarers, who assert their rights and complain about unjust treatment, safety standards, poor working conditions or unpaid wages, among others.

Manning agencies will blacklist seafarers for speaking out against their employers preventing them from being hired in the industry again. Manning agents secretly circulate among themselves derogatory remarks and documents as a retaliatory act against critical seafarers they consider as “troublemakers.”

Their names are put on the “blacklists” held by manning agencies, a  practice that usually destroys the future not only of seafarers but of their dependents as well.

Blacklisting can throw seafarers and whole dependent families unjustly into a sea of uncertainty and unemployment, affecting them for a lifetime.

The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention 179 “prohibits recruitment and placement services from using means, mechanisms or lists intended to prevent or deter seafarers from gaining employment.”

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 empowers seafarers to report violations directly to their flag state authorities while remaining under the protection of the convention. Those flag state authorities must then investigate complaints, and they also must protect seafarers from retaliation.

Alternatively, seafarers can report violations to port state authorities, who similarly must conduct an initial investigation and protect the seafarers’ confidentiality.

However, many seafarers remain skeptical of whether their unions, organizations or flag states will protect them from retaliation for reporting offenses.

When seafarers rightfully complain, they should not be punished for life. Yet if a seafarer appears on a blacklist, their maritime career, often the only job open to them, is over.

 

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, send email  at [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786).

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