ITF Urged to Focus
On Low-Income Issues
By Andy Dalisay
Philstar, 28 June 2001

A Filipino maritime union said the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and its affiliates have recognized the legality of its collective bargaining agreements (CBA) after the ITF refrained from using illegal means in recruiting membership from seafarers on board foreign vessels.

The International Seamen's Mutual Labor Association (ISLA) said more than 20 attempts by ITF inspectors have been made recently demanding for replacement of CBA on ships covered with ISLA agreements. The ships were boarded and threatened with boycotts in various ports, but they fizzled out after ISLA made representations that said demands were illegal.

The ITF threats were made in Australia, Japan, Portugal, Norway, Greece, South Korea, Canada, USA Slovenia, Germany, and Netherlands.

Lawyer Romeo S. Occeña of ISLA said the Filipino crew had no complaint, and the vessels have been covered by ISLA CBA with ship owners/managers, emphasizing that such agreements under Philippine labor laws cannot be substituted through threats, harassment, intimidation and coercion.

ISLA, which has 300 CBA with same number of foreign vessels, is elated over ITF's implied acknowledgment that it would no longer be challenging ISLA contracts anymore.

Industry observers described the situation as a "peaceful coexistence" between the two unions. ISLA, however, insists its vigilance to defend its CBA as it considers this as a responsibility to its union members.

ISLA claimed that it was an ITF practice in the past to get more CBA from ship owners and managers by threatening the ships with boycotts on grounds that their vessels are flying flags-of-convenience or do not have CBA with ITF or its affiliates.

In many cases Filipino seafarers had been used to entice the crew to complain of some violations of maritime laws to justify ITF boycott regardless of an existing valid CBA with other unions, ISLA said. "In the process, extortion, through harassment, coercion, threats and intimidation is being committed," it said.

Occena said that each time a Filipino-crewed ship is placed under boycott, Filipino seamen on board are immediately replaced by other nationalities like Chinese, Burmese, Vietnamese or Russians, etc. Crewmembers from these countries are receiving lower wages than Filipino crew.

ISLA expressed hope that the forthcoming Congress will make a thorough review of maritime policies and laws and further improve the conditions in the industry in general and seafaring Filipinos in particular.

In the meantime, Occena volunteered an "unsolicited advice" for ITF to start focusing attention on countries whose seamen are receiving lower wages than their Filipino counterparts and ON Filipino seamen on board fishing vessels in Samoa and other Asian countries.

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