Filipino sea-farers are still facing a tight job market, as several out-of-work crewmen expressed frustration at being unemployed for an extended period of time, belying the optimistic outlook from local manning agencies.
The Philippines is the world’s biggest source of seafarers, with Filipinos accounting for about 380,000 of the 1.5 million seafarers worldwide according to data from the Philippine Statistical Authority and the International Maritime Organization.
However, demand for seafarers fell by nearly 44 percent year-on-year in 2016, data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said. The BSP noted earlier this week that while overseas Filipino workers’ remittances in 2016 reached a new all-time high of $29.7 billion, an increase of 4.9 percent from 2015, sea-based workers’ remittances declined by 3.8 percent to $5.6 billion.
“This may have been due partly to stiffer competition in the supply of seafarers, particularly from East Asia and Eastern Europe,” the BSP suggested.
The Manila Times contacted several seafarers’ manning agencies and three maritime training schools to investigate the employment outlook for Filipino seafarers in 2017, and found that the consensus outlook was that the job market is improving.
“There was a definite downturn last year (2016),” a spokesperson for Pasay City’s Asian Institute for Maritime Studies (AIMS) acknowledged. “But we think the job market will improve this year. There is more activity in the cruise industry, and the cargo segment, which had a bad year last year, is starting to pick up again.”
Marine training and staffing firm Magsaysay expressed a similar view. “There are a lot of opportunities in all areas of the maritime industry,” a representative said. “We are already seeing improvement over last year.”
Despite the optimism from institutions and manning firms, seafarers along Manila’s Kalaw Avenue, where the Luneta Seafarer’s Center and several marine training and manning agencies are located, said that their efforts to find new deployments were frustrating, and that jobs still seemed to be in short supply.
Juan, a six-year veteran seafarer, complained that he had not been paid for four months during his previous voyage, and that his contract had not been renewed.
“At first, it was supposed to be eight-four (eight months on duty, four months off) and then back, but when they
paid us off and we left, we found out that the contract was ended,” he explained. He had been looking for a new deployment for about three weeks, he said.
George, an engineer with 15 years’ experience, was similarly frustrated. “I took my time off, and expected to be called back, but that hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “I had all my time off, so I’m overdue. When I call to ask, they just say, ‘We’ll contact you.’ I’m just looking around, just in case I don’t get called back.”
Raymart, another engineer, was assisting his nephew, a recent maritime graduate. “I’m going back to my ship in a couple weeks,” Raymart explained. “So it’s no problem for me. What I notice though, helping him out, is that there are really fewer jobs. Cruise jobs, that seems okay, bulkers seem to be hiring, but not as many for containerships, or tankers.”
Raymart’s nephew was waiting for an assignment from his school. “They have job placement, but he graduated a couple weeks ago, and no deployment yet,” Raymart said. “I think there are just a lot guys looking for work and not as many jobs. So we’re here looking for him, just in case the school doesn’t come through soon.”