MANILA — A SPOKESPERSON for ship-owners is lobbying against increases in the wages of Filipino seafarers, citing his compatriots’ sense of “moral responsibility”.
Carlos Salinas, chair and president of the Filipino Ship-owners’ Association, claims that to cease raising wage rates would be in the “best interest” of Filipinos.
The right conditions necessary for wage regulation to work in an international setting is absent, Salinas said at the Sixth LSM Asia-Pacific Manning and Training Conference last November.
Thus, the determination of prudent wage rates should therefore be considered, he added.
Salinas’s insights came as negotiations for wages continue between representatives of ship-owners and seafarers under the International Bargaining Forum (IBF).
The Philippines’s participation in the IBF brings to fore the worldwide industry’s notion that Filipino seafarers are paid high and further increases could skew the wage structure among workers in seagoing vehicles.
Data from seafarers’ groups have cited that an able-body seafarer receives nearly US$1,300 (P70,200 at US$1=P54) a month as salary, the highest entry-level wage for this category. A minimum monthly wage for a ship’s Captain is reportedly set at above US$3,200 (roughly P172,800).
These figures are the subject of a proposed 10-percent increase lobbied two years ago by seafarers’ groups.
Salinas argues that another wage hike may have a very good short-term and personal impact on the individual but may price the Filipino seafarer out of the market.
In view of competition offered by other seafarer-deploying countries like China, Salinas said, a wage hike may make the Filipino seafarer less affordable for shipowners.
“If we push for higher rates without addressing the broader problem of lack of parity among seafarers worldwide, it will only undermine and/or backfire on the Filipino seafarers in the long run,” he said.
“For one, its impact will cause the loss of the country’s premiere position in the world maritime labor market,” Salinas added.
THE call for a cap on Filipino seafarers’ salary has been aired two years ago ironically by a seafarers’ group.
In 2003, industry leaders led by the Filipino Association for Mariner’s Employment (FAME) called for a moratorium on seafarer’s salary increases.
They got the support of Captain Greg S. Oca, president of the Associated Marine Officer’s and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (Amosup), one of the largest organizations of Filipino seafarers. Amosup is also the local affiliate of the International Transport Federation, which sits at the negotiating table at the IBF.
The ITF has been leading the lobby to bridge a salary disparity among seafarers of different nationalities. The ITF has been implementing an Asian wage rate for Asian seafarers under a Total Crew Cost program. Such agreement responds to a general clamor that wages must approximate at least the living standards of seafarers, especially from the Philippines.
After Amosup’s call was backed up by the International Maritime Employers group, the ITF conceded to a wage freeze but only for a year.
Shipowners, later on formed the IBF to discuss wages and benchmark wage rates.
Shipping business leaders like Doris Magsaysay-Ho of Magsaysay Corp. and Ericson Marquez of Virgen Shipping were the two vocal opponents of Filipino seafarer’s wage hike.
In several forums, both have said that because of the disparity in the value of peso and the U.S. dollar, Filipino seafarers benefit more from their dollar-denominated wages than other Asian seafarers.
Salinas used the Big Mac Index by newsmagazine The Economist, which cited that while a McDonald’s hamburger costs US$3 in the US, US$3.36 in Europe, US$1.30 in China, and US$2.13 in Singapore, it only cost US$1.44 in the Philippines.
He claims this price structure best illustrates the wage disparities in costs of living among seafarers.
Jobs vs. wage
SALINAS added that wage improvement “is not shown solely by a singular measure of an increased seafarer wage rate”.
“No matter how high the wage rate is, it is ultimately useless if the seafarer is not employed,” he added.
It is easy to see why regular increases in the minimum wage would be attractive to any seafarer, since it increases his personal income and purchasing power, Salinas said.
“Higher incomes give them upward social mobility and increase either their personal consumption or savings rates, depending on the disposition of the wage earner, both of which contribute to the overall health of the national economy,” he explained.
However, maintaining wage rates at current levels will allow more employment opportunities, not only new entrants into the industry, but also the seafarer enjoying their current high income and the benefits it brings, according to Salinas.
Salinas cited that it is better to preserve and expand these opportunities than lobby for wage hikes in view of continuing unemployment and underemployment in the Philippines.
Currently, Filipinos comprise over 20 percent of the world’s seafarers.
Maintaining current wage levels, according to Salinas, may attract ship owners to hire more Filipinos.
This will allow us to preserve and expand our market share to several thousands more, thus ensuring more employment opportunities for Filipino seafarers, he claims.
Tags: Associated Marine Officer’s and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (Amosup), Filipino Association for Mariner’s Employment (FAME), Filipino Ship-owners’ Association, International Bargaining Forum (IBF), Sixth LSM Asia-Pacific Manning and Training Conference