Cadets in servitude and human rights

Barista Uno reports from Manila on how crewing CEOs are using maritime cadets as flunkeys.

It tells a lot about values in Manila’s manning sector. Maritime cadets are made to work as unpaid office help or flunkeys, and people see nothing wrong with it. Yet, one has to be callous and ignorant not to see that the serve-for-sail practice demeans cadets and is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration was adopted in December 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly with 48 member states, including the Philippines, voting in favour. It states in part that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms” (Article 4). To call Manila’s maritime flunkey sytem “slavery” seems a bit strained. But servitude it certainly is.

Servitude. How else would you call it when cadets are obliged to serve lunch to crewing managers in their gleaming white cadet uniforms? Or when they are ordered to go out to buy pizza for the staff? Manning CEOs are known to use cadets as their personal or family drivers even as they pay tribute to seamen on the annual Day of the Seafarer.

That the cadets are given, in some cases, free lunch and transportation allowance does not make the practice less egregious. These young men and women are at the beck and call of office employees, doing menial tasks (e.g., washing the dishes, cleaning the toilet) that would never be imposed on nursing interns or apprentice lawyers. Many have to wait for months on end before being freed from servitude and placed on board their first vessel.

The exploitative practice is by no means confined to crewing companies. The seamen’s unions are into it. So are some training centres. Feudal as it sounds, the system has become part of Manila’s damaged maritime culture. Who in town gives a damn about the dignity of cadets, the prestige of the merchant marine profession, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

This article first appeared on Marine Café.

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