Some 19 Filipino manning agents have been charged with illegal recruitment activities after the government sent undercover inspectors posing as job-hunters to Manila’s well-known Luneta Seafarers’ Centre.
Among those in the firing line are companies whose names suggest affiliation to Hong Kong shipmanagers Wallem and Univan and to Korean owner Hanjin.
However, one source aware of the situation said that the companies concerned had been left bewildered by the development, as they are not sure exactly what they are supposed to have done wrong.
Accusations that the building, which has acted as a welfare centre for seafarers since the 1980s, has acted as an unofficial labour exchange have been ongoing since 2009, when the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration suspended recruitment on the premises.
To prevent abuses, the seafarers’ centre has since installed closed-circuit television in booths where employers and employees meet and has ruled that manning agents are forbidden to post salary rates on the premises.
However, it remained legal for recruiters to disseminate information, and many of the accused companies seem to have done no more than that.
Last month the POEA’s Operations and Surveillance Division, assisted by detectives, pulled off a sting at the centre, sending personnel there who pretended to be jobseekers.
The team reported that agency representatives handed them company brochures, calling cards and flyers listing their respective job openings, in effect tantamount to recruitment.
All recruitment activities outside the registered offices of a licensed recruitment or manning agency are deemed illegal without the special authority issued by the POEA.
A prominent person involved in seafarer labour provision, who asked not to be named, told Lloyd’s List: “There appears to be a huge amount of confusion, to be honest. I’m not really clear what the issue is.
“I was always under the impression that these booths were perfectly legal provided the companies that used them did not sign crew on at Luneta Park. If seafarers are interested in signing on, they are bussed in one of these little minivans to the agency’s office.
“Nobody is quite clear what the agencies in question have done wrong and the POEA has not been clear on this point.”
Ian Sherwood, managing director of crewing agency Delta Marine, said that Luneta Park had been established as the place to go for seafarers seeking employment for many decades. Although Delta does not recruit there, he could see no issue in doing so and said it was up to the authorities to make their case.
According to a statement on the POEA website, the manning agencies charged are Korpil Ship Management and Manning Corp Seaboard Maritime, Wallem Maritime Services, Avantgarde Shipping Corp, Univan Management Services Phils, Century Maritime Agencies, Solpia Marine and Ship Management, Great Swiss Maritime Services, Intercrew Philippines Agency, Epsilon Maritime Services, C-Man Maritime, Trans-Global Maritime Agency, Cardiff Crewing Filipinas, International Ship Crew Management Phils, Michaelmar Phils, Hanjin Shipping, Evic Human Resource Management, Morning Mist Maritime Services and Seafarers Shipping.
Some of the companies are believed to have heard that they were in trouble only when the statement was published online, having had no prior notification — something that would be standard practice in many countries.
On checking the POEA database, Seaboard Maritime, Hanjin Shipping and Morning Mist Maritime Services were found to have no authority to recruit or deploy Filipino workers overseas. The other agencies — although their licences were valid — were found to violate regulations on the recruitment of seafarers, POEA head Hans Leo Cacdac said.
Meanwhile, labour and employment secretary Rosalinda Baldoz recently stated in a press release that the country’s Joint Manning Group — composed of the Filipino Association for Mariners’ Employment, Filipino Shipowners’ Association, International Maritime Association of the Philippines, Philippine Association of Manning Agencies and Shipmanagers and Philippine-Japan Manning Consultative Council — had pledged to support the crackdown.