As vessels are laid up owing to sharp falls in world trade, up to 40,000 Filipino seafarers working for Japanese shipping companies stand to lose their jobs this year, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said yesterday.
According to Roque, owners of Japanese ships employing more than 40,000 Filipinos as crew have already notified the Department of Labor and Employment that their operations may be downsized.
Crew members working on car carriers, bulk carriers and container ships would be the first to go, he added. About 300,000 Filipinos work on merchant shipping around the globe, according to official data.
Roque also told newsmen that Japan’s Fujitsu Ltd., blaming the global economic downturn, had announced plans to ax 1,750 jobs in the Philippines.
He said the government had been notified of Fujitsu’s plan, which would take effect on April 18.
Fujitsu’s lay-off plan would bring to about 45,000 the number of Filipinos who had lost their jobs since the financial crisis unfolded last year.
Workers have been offered early retirement packages to leave Fujitsu Computer Products Corp., which makes disk drives, according to Fujitsu manager Ernesto Espinosa.
“We launched a voluntary leaving program and the reason for this is that of the global recession,” he told Agence France-Presse.
Espinosa said Fujitsu failed to save the jobs despite earlier efforts to cut working hours and overtime pay, which drastically reduced employees’ salaries.
“Because of that we have no other choice but to offer voluntary separation,” he added.
About 2, 900 other workers will remain with the company, based in Canlubang economic enclave in Calamba town in Laguna, some 50 kilometers south of Manila.
Fujitsu announced in Japan last month that it would sell an 80 percent stake to Japanese rival Toshiba Corp.
Fujitsu’s downsizing plan and those of Japanese shipowners provide a glimpse of gloomy global economic outlook that experts say would extend even beyond 2009. As a result, many industries and offices are folding up, resulting in mass layoffs. Earlier, Roque said the government had expected 800,000 Filipino workers to lose their jobs, mainly in the electronics and clothing sectors, before the downturn eases.
Only the other day, the government estimated that nine million Filipinos were without jobs or underemployed.
For sea-based Filipino workers, losing their jobs had been expected as the drop in trade demand worldwide prompted some foreign ship owners to file notice they would lay up their vessels and cut crews this year.
Ericson Marquez, head of a group of ship-manning agencies based in the Philippines, said: “In the next six months, we can see more Philippine crewmen repatriated,” Marquez said.
At least 433 container ships have been laid up worldwide due to lack of cargo, Marquez said.
Roque said 45 of these foreign vessels are presently laid up at Subic Bay, north of Manila, and in the southern Philippine port of Davao.
“The demand for seafarers is still there but it is only for a particular kind of ship, like tankers,” Marquez said. “If we don’t have those specialties, there could be dislocation in the manning industry,” he added.
Roque said Manila has asked Tokyo’s transport ministry to help retrain displaced Philippine seamen.
“This agreement would provide Philippine seafarers affected by the crisis to train and upgrade their skills while waiting for their return on board,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Social Security System (SSS) announced its readiness to offer three-year loans of up to P15,000 to each of the 30,000 employees who are laid off this year, SSS president Romulo Neri told reporters.
The SSS is a retirement fund for private sector workers that is run by the government.
A portion of salaries is automatically deducted by employers and remitted to the fund to cover their pensions when they retire.
Neri said he regretted the fund could not offer more because it collected just P68.88 billion in contributions last year while paying out P67.95 billion in pensions.
“There’s very little margin for us to work with,” he added. AFP