More than a dozen Filipino seafarers are seeking government help after their Fiji-based shipping company reportedly abandoned them since December last year for their refusal to hand over their respective passports.
The plight of the Filipino seafarers had sparked a thorough police investigation against Goundar Shipping for alleged abusive treatment against their employees and a list of other possible charges ranging from human trafficking, slavery, deception, labor law violations, and intimidation.
Initial reports reaching Manila indicated that the Filipino seafarers were abandoned in Fiji with no money and no means of returning home.
When sought to provide details on the status of the Filipino workers, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippine Embassy in Wellington has been instructed to look into the case and extend appropriate assistance.
“Aside from the embassy, the seafarers are also being assisted by the Fijian government and the International Transport Workers Federation,” the DFA told reporters.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) backed the complaints of the Filipino seafarers as it called for a thorough probe on the operations of the Fiji-based ferry service company.
“We welcome (the) news of a police investigation into Goundar Shipping after so many months of inaction from Fijian authorities. But it is important that any investigation addresses the full list of allegations against Goundar Shipping. We’re talking human trafficking, slavery, deception, labor law violations, intimidation, the list goes on..,” said ITF Inspector Sarah Maguire in a statement posted on its official website on Thursday, March 11.
In the statement, Maguire said more than 20 Filipino seafarers were lured to Fiji to operate an aging ferry fleet under false pretenses, “only to find 50-70 percent lower wages, unsafe conditions and no return ticket home as promised by Goundar shipping and required under Fiji’s immigration laws.”
“When they arrived, Goundar cut the seafarers’ pay further, undercounted their hours, and generally treated them with contempt,” she said, adding that the company also cut the workers’ food rations, eventually to just bread and tea, and pushed seafarers to work an unsafe number of hours, many of them without commensurate pay.
Based on the initial calculations by the ITF, Maguire said it showed the seafarers had been paid as little as 75 cents per hour in recent months by Goundar for the hours they worked.
She added that at least one seafarer, a cook, had a take-home pay of measly 40 cents per hour, and was paid for just seven hours per week, despite working 98-hour weeks. “Like many of Goundar’s workforce, he worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week,” the ITF inspector said.
Based on the ITF estimation, Goundar Shipping owes the seafarers collectively more than AUD 250,000 in unpaid wages.