The plight of maritime cadets as utility boys

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | October 27,2020 - 08:00 AM


The proliferation of cadets serving as utility boys is an issue that is widely known in the maritime industry but seldom addressed.

Although some maritime students are accepted as trainees, there are those that first function as utility boys or errand runners for a company before they would be given their vessel assignment.

Aside from doing office errands, there are cadets that also do janitorial or messengerial services while others  are even instructed to do house chores as if they are “household helpers”. Some are given meager allowances while  others do the tasks without decent compensation.

“How will the proposed Magna Carta on Filipino Seafarers help cadets not to be taken advantage of?”, a question raised by Christian Esteban of Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP) Bataan during the recent online public consultation on the pending law organized by the office of Senator Risa Hontiveros. He is also one of the winners of the Ten Outstanding Maritime Students of the Philippines (TOMSP).

Esteban noted that some people romanticize the issue as if it is a test of character and attitude to overcome such trials.

“However, I think they forget to ask themselves, is it really justifiable for someone hired as a cadet, to be used in the office for such tasks? What is stopping the company in giving them their respective vessel assignment? Is the office really that short on manpower that they need their cadets to aid them in their daily lives?”, Esteban said.

The education of Filipino cadets  is a  combination of  theoretical years  and shipboard training.

Cadets will initially study in their school all the required theoretical knowledge for seamanship, navigation and engineering which will be followed by their shipboard training in a seagoing ship to study practical knowledge and skills for a minimum of 12 months.

They will then  return to their school for the conferment of their BS degree on Marine Engineering or Marine Transportation (BSME/BSMT).

During the 2019 Maritime Education and Training conference organized by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the agency presented the results of the 2018 MARINA study that shows  the effectiveness of the 91 maritime schools nationwide.

The report noted that that only about 18 percent ofenrollees ( from freshman year) manages to complete the full academic three years. Out of this 18 percent, however,  an average of  15 percent only  manages to obtain a BSMT/BSME degree.

Out of the yearly over 20,000 cadets from the maritime schools eligible for shipboard training, it is estimated that only around 5,000 could be absorbed on board foreign and domestic ships.

This shortage of opportunities resulted to the proliferation of cadets  working as “utility boys” wherein many are under a great deal of pressure to finish their apprenticeship within the prescribed period. The adage “kapit sa patalim” prompts them to agree to  such arrangement.

With  the  hope that they would one day be able to board a vessel, there are utility boys  whose service to their  agency surpass the 12-month required apprenticeship period, some without decent compensation.

Dr. Roderick Galam of Oxford Brookes University discussed in an article  how manning agencies and utility boys/ men differentially rationalize this exploitative work.

Galam pointed out that manning agencies use it “as a technology of servitude that, through physical and verbal abuse and other techniques, enforces docility to prepare utility men for the harsher conditions on-board a ship”

On the other hand, Galam noted that  utility  men   use it as “a technology of imagination, gleaning from it a capacity to shape their future.”

“Faced with few social possibilities in the Philippines, they deploy servitude as a strategy for attaining economic mobility and male adulthood,” Galam said.

Maritime blogger Barista Uno of Marine-Café.Com  described the proliferation  of “utility boys” as an “ignominy” where the use of maritime cadets as unpaid labour by Philippine manning agencies must be seen as  a clear case of exploitation.

He calls it “a form of modern-day slavery”.

Barista Uno pointed out that some try to dismiss the whole issue by saying it is the cadets’ choice to serve as utility boys.

He noted that there are industry players that try to rationalize the “serve-for-sail practice” by invoking the need to instill discipline in future ship officers  which he described as  “a cavalier attitude (that)  shows a lack of concern and empathy.”

“This is yet another example of how seafarers have been commodified in the 21st century. Those who work at sea and cadets who aspire to become ship officers are like cans of Campbell’s Soup on a supermarket shelf,” Barista Uno said. “ The people who have power over them feel that they can use them however they like.”

Let’s stop turning a blind eye to the plight of the utility boys as what Barista Uno described as   “a form of modern-day slavery”.

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan  law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected] or call 09175025808 or 09088665786

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