One of the main impediments to economic development has long been considered to be cronyism in Philippine state institutions, dating back to the Marcos administration (Kang 2003; Abinales and Amoroso 2005). Cronyism, a term referring to acts of favouritism and preferential bias based on kinship and close personal relationships, is endemic in Philippine politics and society and was borne out of its colonial heritage of drawing leaders and agents of the state from the powerful elite (Hutchcroft 1998). Such a feature of Philippine governance became firmly established during the Marcos administration (1965–1986) and was responsible for pushing the country into crippling debt (Wurfel 1988). Although the regime ended in 1986, propelling a nationwide democratisation project into the 1990s, crony capitalism has led to wide inequalities between the elite and poor. According to the World Bank (2015) income inequality between 2012 and 1988, with a GINI coefficient, was 40.8% in 1988 and 42.2% in 2012. Cronyism as a form of governance has permeated public and private institutions over the last half century, engendering widespread corruption in many ways and undermining the democratisation project in the Philippines, (see for example De Dios and Ferrer 2001).
Cronyism as a type of governance is apparent in the organisation of the maritime labour movement in the Philippines and is manifested among the more prominent maritime trade unions through the stranglehold of leadership by a select few. For instance, in its 60-year long history, the most prominent trade union in this sector, AMOSUP was instituted and led by a former seafarer Gregorio Oca up until his death in 2010. He was succeeded by his son, Conrado Oca, who whilst lacked seafaring experience, served in senior positions in the union and its affiliated organisations such as the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP) and the Seamen’s Hospital in Manila (see AMOSUP 2016). Similar senior positions within the union and its affiliated organisations are held by Oca’s immediate and extended family. Likewise, UFS and PSU, since their establishment in the late 1980s to the early 1990s, have been under the control of the same group of people for more than two decades.
Cronyism within the maritime labour movement is exacerbated by the virtual lack of democratic procedures within the unions. There is a complete absence of union elections despite some unions ostentatiously maintaining their commitment to democratic principles. For example in UFS’ constitution and by-laws, the first aim of the union was to “To establish an effective, free and democratic trade union organization dedicated to the welfare of the workers” (UFS 2012). For these unions, however, the arbitrary appointment of a union president lies in a board of governors usually occupied by a close-knit group and supported by a similarly close-knit set of senior union management. In turn the appointment of cronies to senior union management, in the case of AMOSUP including its affiliated organisations, lies within the control and influence of the union president. Arguably cronyism in the maritime labour movement may be said to have been a key element in the continued strength and power of the industry as a whole without undue resistance. More generally, the lack of union democracy is argued by many unionists to make unions more efficient and create a less militant workforce, which is more agreeable to employers increasing job opportunities for Filipino seafarers. Nevertheless such an entrenched elite hampers the democratic processes within the unions since internal union democracy is ‘likely to reduce chances for corruption’ and build stronger, more participative membership’ (Luce 2014). The result therefore in the case of the Philippine maritime labour sector is that of a passive union membership base led by crony leadership within the union organisation.
Another common feature apparent across the Philippine maritime labour movement is its adoption of the servicing logic of action. Used in the context of trade unions strategy, Bacharach et al. (2001) define logics of action as frameworks of rationale informing union decisions with the aim of “legitimizing the union to its members, securing commitment of its members and attracting new members to the union” (p. 7). In this section I frame servicing as a form of union strategy whereby the union, working as a professionalised body is relied upon to translate members’ interests into a set of services such as wage bargaining and the protection of members in employer disputes as well as providing other non-wage bargaining services to members in exchange for membership fees (Bacharach et al. 2001; de Turberville 2004). In the context of the Philippine maritime unions however, the adoption of the servicing logic goes only as far as the representation of members through centralised wage bargaining and the delivery of non-wage benefits to fee-paying members through a professionalised union organisation. What is unique in the Philippine case is that due to the way in which seafarers are employed with solely temporary contracts, unionising seafarers operates at a top-down level. That is to say the unions engage new employers into a collective bargaining agreement independent of the latter’s employees. As such, seafarers when offered a contract by an employer with an existing collective bargaining agreement will automatically be required by employers to buy into a unionised contract. Seafarers therefore have very little agency over becoming fee-paying union members. Hence, the traditional rationale for servicing as an approach to attracting new individual workers may not fully apply in this case, what can apply however is that servicing can be seen as an approach to legitimise the union to its members.
In terms of centralised collective bargaining for members, ITF affiliated unions have the ability to negotiate at peak-level through the International Bargaining Forum (IBF) which brings to the bargaining table key global employers’ organisations such as the International Maritime Employers’ Committee (IMEC) and the International Mariners Management Association of Japan (IMMAJ) to negotiate an almost industry-wide pay scale in FOC ships (Lillie 2006). The result for union members of ITF affiliated maritime unions in the Philippines is a considerably higher base salary compared to those with non-CBA contracts and indeed compared to the minimum salaries prescribed by the POEA Standard Employment Contract. Arguably the positive pay differential is an incentive for workers to become union members.
More importantly in terms of legitimising the union to its members as a rationale for servicing, most prominent maritime unions in the Philippines are very advanced in terms of delivering non-wage services as we have seen earlier in this chapter. Services such as those offered by AMOSUP like free medical care through its seafarers’ hospital, legal services, board and lodging, are mimicked by other unions, albeit on a smaller scale. Such non-wage benefits for union members are all geared towards justifying the union fees required from seafarers under CBA contracts.
While there is a general trend among maritime trade unions in the Philippines to adopt a servicing logic to legitimise themselves to members, the ways in which they project themselves to advance seafarers’ interests with the state and with capital is fragmented in approach. Generally, the union movement in this case adopts two competing approaches to advance workers’ welfare in regulatory bodies, co-operative and adversarial. A co-operative union approach in this case refers to unions’ involvement with multi-party discussions with state agencies and employer representatives to meet worker and employer interests. An adversarial union approach refers to unions’ involvement in more militant ways to advance purely workers’ interests.
The most prominent maritime trade unions in the Philippines are indeed divided between these two approaches. Whilst AMOSUP, PSU and to some extent ISLA adopt a more co-operative approach, UFS adopts a somewhat adversarial approach. Co-operative unions tend to be active in participating in committees on key sectoral issues with state agencies and employers’ representatives to create dialogue and co-operation among the different stakeholders within the maritime labour industry. In 2011 for example, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) established the Maritime Industry Tripartite Council (MITC) as a policy-consulting group consisting of maritime unions such as AMOSUP, ISLA, and PSU and employers’ associations like the Filipino Association for Mariners’ Employment (FAME) and the Filipino Shipowners’ Association (FSA). MITC was instituted with the aim of developing new policies to advance maritime employment and enhance the welfare of Filipino seafarers and port workers (DOLE 2011). In particular it aims to co-opt key stakeholders from capital, labour and the state, in policymaking for the domestic and international maritime sector, as well as domestic port labour, such as the drafting and enactment of the Rules and Regulations Governing the Employment and Working Conditions of Seafarers Onboard Ships Engaged in Domestic Shipping in 2013 (DOLE 2013). In addition it responds to current issues requiring multi-sectoral attention. For example in January 2018 there was an MITC consultative meeting on the sinking of the MERCRAFT three passenger vessel in 2016 which was due to alleged shortcomings within government regulatory bodies (see Andes 2018). While independent assessments have yet to be made in relation to the impact of the MITC and other dialogue bodies within which maritime unions engage, in terms of enforcement, the policymaking function of such bodies is to a certain extent producing results.
For other maritime unions, advancing the welfare of maritime workers is done using a more adversarial approach. Some unions believe that a co-operative approach dilutes the ability of unions to fully represent workers’ interests in the public sphere. The adversarial approach includes the mobilisation of union members to protest and express dissatisfaction towards government bodies as well as by means of legal recourse against individual government officials. In 2015 for example, UFS reports the holding of mass protests involving over 2000 seafarers including their families and other labour groups over a series of alleged malpractices within the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA). Similarly in 2017, UFS filed individual graft charges to current and former MARINA officials in the Office of the Ombudsman pertaining to the “alleged arrogation of authority in the implementation of [the Executive Order 909, Series 2010] giving incentives in the use of brand new vessels” (Nonato 2017). Neither example however is unique and is in fact routine behaviour for UFS forming part of its overall strategy in representing workers and seafarers in general. In a self-published article by the UFS (2015), it proclaims that the “union never tire of calling on MARINA’s doors to carry out what is right and just on behalf of Filipino seafarers”.