Filipino seamen in Japan face layoffs, says Labor chief

Published by rudy Date posted on March 19, 2009

Thousands of Filipino seamen working for Japanese shipping companies face downsizing this year, as vessels are laid up because of the sharp fall in world trade, an official said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Fujitsu Ltd. announced also on Wednesday that it would cut nearly 2,000 jobs in the Philippines.

Japanese ship owners employing more than 40,000 Filipinos as crew have notified Manila that their operations may be downsized, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque told reporters.

But he added that it might be too early to pin down the exact number of Filipino seamen who would lose their jobs. The secretary said the last report on seafarers put at 600 the number of retrenched marine workers.

“They said there is a possible downscale in the industry this year, which could have an impact on Filipino seafarers but we have no report as to the definite number,” Roque said, adding that 70 percent of Japanese fleets are manned by Filipino crew. That puts to some 40,000 workers the number of Filipino seafarers employed by Japanese ship owners.

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.

But the financial meltdown only affects certain vessel types, said Ericson Marquez, co-chairman of Joint Manning Group. He added that the decline of the export and import industry caused the cargo and bulk carriers to cut back on its operation.

“The problem will be on the container and bulk carriers, since there are now less importers from developed countries,” Marquez said the same press conference attended by Roque.

“In the next six months, we can see more Philippine crewmen repatriated,” Marquez added.

Negligible number

The possible layoffs of Filipino marine workers in Japan would be “negligible,” said to Capt. Gregorio Oca, president of the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (Amosup). Filipinos make up two-thirds of the total seafarers worldwide.

He added that opportunities in shipping vessels would soon open up since there are some 2,000 ships scheduled to be delivered later this year.

Also during a tripartite meeting with the Japan Seafarers Union – attended by representatives from the Philippine government and the Amosup—Roque offered the country’s ports to be hot lay-up areas for Japanese ships. If adopted, that would create more jobs for Filipinos.

In a hot lay-up, the ship—although anchored in a port—retains its crew while waiting for cargo to deliver.

“Seafarers in a hot lay-up would still receive their salaries even if their ships are on the port . . . this could preserve the employment of our seafarers and at the same time, generate local employment,” Roque said, adding that local residents in the lay-up areas of Subic Bay and Malalag Bay in Davao could work as security guards and maintenance crew while the ships are docked.

Most shipping managers prefer hot lay-up, Marquez said, because this arrangement saves money. Training a new crew once business resumes would cost more, and it would be difficult to rehire the laid off workers, who are likely to look for new employers once fired.

Oca, however, clarified that only the port at Subic Bay port could be considered a hot lay-up area.

Some 30 vessels are in hot lay-up at Subic Bay, and 15 are in cold lay-up in Malalag Bay.

Seafarers retraining

Also at the tripartite meeting, Roque signed a memorandum of cooperation on development of Asian seafarers with Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. It was to train Filipino seafarers under the International Cooperative Training Project for Asian Seafarers.

“This agreement would provide Philippine seafarers affected by the crisis [an opportunity] to train and upgrade their skills while waiting for their return on board,” he said.

He said that the Labor department was looking into opening the country for ship-breaking, which would generate local employment for the scrapping and recycling of ship materials.

Fujitsu cuts jobs

Fujitsu announced plans also on Wednesday to axe 1,750 jobs in the Philippines, blaming the global economic downturn.

Workers have been offered early retirement packages to leave Fujitsu Computer Products Corp., which makes disk drives, said Ernesto Espinosa, a manager. “We launched a voluntary leaving program and the reason for this is that because of the global recession.”

Roque told reporters the government had been notified of the plan, which takes effect on April 18.

He said this brought the number of Filipinos who had lost their jobs since the financial crisis unfolded last year to about 45,000.

The government expects 800,000 people to lose jobs, mainly in the electronics and clothing sectors, before the downturn eases.

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.”

About 2,900 other workers will remain with the company, based in Calamba town, south of Manila, he said.

Fujitsu announced in Japan last month that it would sell an 80-percent stake to Japanese rival Toshiba Corp.

Loans for displaced

Members of the Social Security System (SSS) who lost their jobs could avail of P500 million emergency loans being offered by the fund, said its president, Romulo Neri.

He explained that the funds would come from the Employees Compen­sation Commission of the Labor department after the SSS reached the maximum amount it could loan to members—10 percent of its reserves.

But he added that only those who lost their jobs from January 1, 2009 are qualified for the emergency loan.

At the same time, jobless workers must also meet several requirements, such as 12-month contributions before losing their jobs, at least six month payment of contributions for 2008, updated loan amortization as of December 31, 2008, must not have been previously granted refund of contributions, retirement or total permanent disability benefits, and must not have had fraudulent loan applications.

Neri said the maximum allowable loan amount is up to two months’ equivalent of the employee’s highest monthly salary for the past six months before separation, but a total of not more than P15,000.
— AFP, Bernice Camille V. Bauzon And Angelo S. Samonte

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