Blacklisting as an industry retaliatory practice

MANY Filipino seafarers are reluctant to file complaints against their manning agents due to the so-called “blacklisting”, a practice used to prevent certain seafarers from being employed.

There is both “legal” and “illegal” blacklisting of seafarers.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) comes up with a blacklist (also called watchlist) of seafarers as a form of legal sanction if a complaint of breach of discipline is filed against the seafarer with the Adjudication Office or Regional Office.

Seafarers who face penalties after final judgment are blacklisted. Included in the list are those disqualified from overseas employment until cleared by the POEA or until their suspension is served or lifted.

However, illegal blacklisting became a hidden industry practice; manning agencies make statements or communications that tend to influence or prejudice the mind of any employer against the person seeking employment.

Blacklisting is the nefarious practice of blocking future employment of seafarers who complain about unjust treatment, safety standards, poor working conditions or unpaid wages, among others.

Manning agencies in the Philippines will blacklist seafarers for speaking out against their employers preventing them from being hired in the industry again. Manning agents secretly circulate among themselves derogatory remarks and pictures as a retaliatory act against critical seafarers they consider as “troublemakers.”

Those who assert their rights are more often than not labelled as “troublemakers.” Their names are put on the “blacklists” held by manning agencies and “watchlists” held by the POEA. The practice usually destroys the future not only of seafarers but of their dependents as well.

Blacklisting can throw seafarers and whole dependent families unjustly into a sea of uncertainty and unemployment, affecting them for a lifetime.

The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention 179 “prohibits recruitment and placement services from using means, mechanisms or lists intended to prevent or deter seafarers from gaining employment.”

Under the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (which came into force in 2013, and has been ratified by 81 countries covering more than 90 percent of the world’s merchant fleet) empowers seafarers to report violations directly to their flag state authorities while remaining under the protection of the convention. Those flag state authorities must then investigate complaints, and they also must protect seafarers from retaliation.

Alternatively, seafarers can report violations to port state authorities, who similarly must conduct an initial investigation and protect the seafarers’ confidentiality

However, many seafarers remain skeptical of whether their unions, organizations or flag states will protect them from retaliation for reporting offences.

Under POEA rules, the seafarer may face sanctions by the commission of any of the following offenses which shall be a ground for disciplinary action:
A. Pre-Employment Offenses
1. using, providing, or submitting false information or documents for purposes of job application or employment
2. unjustified refusal to depart for the worksite after all employment and travel documents have been duly approved by the appropriate government agency/ies
B. Offenses during Employment
1. commission of a felony or crime punishable by Philippine Laws or by the laws of the host
2. unjustified breach of employment contract
3. embezzlement of company funds or monies and/or properties of a fellow worker entrusted
for delivery to kin or relatives in the Philippines; and
4. violation/s of the sacred practices of the host country

An administrative complaint or disciplinary action against the seafarer may be filed before the POEA that, after due investigation, may impose penalties ranging from suspension to delisting, depending on the gravity of the offense and the frequency of the violation(s).

When seafarers rightfully complain, they should not be punished for life. Yet if a seafarer appears on a blacklist their maritime career, often the only job open to them is over.

(Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)./PN


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