February 7, 2011

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

January 31, 2011 Pohnpei, FSM-Seven Filipinos hired on contract by Penta Ocean to ferry a barge to Pohnpei from the Philippines are now refusing to leave the FSM until they are paid a year's worth of wages by the contractor. They say that their contract specifies a term of one year while Penta Ocean, through their attorney Fred Ramp says that the foreign workers were hired only to bring the vessel to the FSM and that the contract specifies one year or until the job is complete. Ramp said that the job was complete as soon as the vessel, the SPHB Ingat arrived in Pohnpei on January 5, 2011. Penta Ocean has paid the entire crew a full month's wages though they didn't actually leave the Philippines until December 16, 2010.

Penta Ocean is the company contracted to extend the runway at the Pohnpei International Airport.

Ramp said that Penta Ocean had made appointments for the crew with the U.S. Embassy in order to process transit visas for their return trip to the Philippines but that the crew refused to go to those appointments. Penta Ocean also made hotel reservations for the crew at Pacific

Skylite where they were to have stayed while their visa applications were being processed. They are still at Pacific Skylite Hotel waiting for the outcome of any hearings on the matter.

The first of those hearings is scheduled to take place at 9:00 on February 1 at the Pohnpei State Labor office.

Penta Ocean intends to argue that the matter should be settled at the FSM Supreme Court. Ramp said that since the workers were hired as seamen the contract dispute is an Admiralty and Maritime issue in addition to Immigration matters all of which is under the purview of the FSM Supreme Court.

The crew retained Attorney Martin Jano to represent them in the matter. He says that since the paperwork Penta Ocean fi led with Pohnpei State as part of the process of obtaining work permits specifically says that the Filipino contractors would "be used exclusively for Dredging Purposes and should be processed as Land Based Workers," the matter is a Pohnpei State issue.

63 year old Osias A. Camacho was hired as the Master Mariner at a monthly salary of $3200 plus accommodations, transportation, medical benefits and all other remunerations that are to be provided under Pohnpei and FSM Labor Law "I never would have signed this contract if I knew it would be like this," he said with tears streaming down his face. "I don't know why they're doing this to us," he wailed.

While Camacho was making the passage from the Philippines he contracted a hideous infection on his right foot. He pulled back his bandage and showed us the gaping wound which oozed a foul thick green tinged bloody yellow fluid. He said that he paid $298 for medical treatment at Genesis and submitted the receipt to Penta Ocean for reimbursement. He claimed that the company so far has refused to reimburse him for that medical treatment and that he has no money for further treatment that he desperately needs.

Captain Camacho, who is married and has three children, one of whom is expecting his first grandchild, said that he lost his smallest two toes on his right foot in an unrelated accident years ago. He said that he does not have diabetes and obtained a clean bill of health and a medical certificate saying so before he left the Philippines. He claims that the infection happened while he was on the job and that Penta Ocean should by contract pay for the medical attention he needs.

Paragraph 10 of the contract each employee signed says that employees are to be provided "free 'emergency' medical and dental services including medicine," during the term of the contract.

Attorney Fred Ramp said that his client hadn't mentioned any issues regarding medical treatment for any of the crew members but that the company had paid Captain Camacho $3200 for a month's wages so as far as he knew Camacho had at least that much money.

Ramp said that his client agreed to pay the cost of the crew's accommodations through January 27.

"We haven't received one penny 'til now," said Yalmer Helgenberger of the Pacific Skylite Hotel during an interview with him and the Filipino crew on January 29.

Additionally the crew said that on January 28, officers from the FSM Department of Immigration came to the hotel and confronted the crew saying that they had overstayed their work permits and that each one of them would be subject to a $10,000 fi ne if they didn't immediately sign the Termination of Contract papers and leave Pohnpei.

Crew members didn't understand how that could be since each of their passports were stamped with a departure date of December 6, 2011 and all of them have work permits valid through that date. They did not sign the Termination of Contract papers.

Though Camacho and the rest of the crew said that they all thought they had a one year contract, one of their crew has already returned to the Philippines. The Chief Engineer left Pohnpei on January 20 at which time Penta Ocean paid that crew member's entire hotel bill plus expenses for his return trip to the Philippines.

Ramp said that before the Chief Engineer departed he gave a statement essentially saying that he was never under the impression that the contract was for a full year and would end when the job was complete.

Ramp said that the company utilized a standard contract that they use for foreign workers which has a period of one year but also specifies that the contract will be terminated when the work is complete.

The attorney for the crew members, Martin Jano said that he reviewed the contract particularly in terms of the grounds for termination defined in paragraph 14A that defines the grounds for termination of the contract. He said that none of those conditions had been met and the crew should not have been terminated. Those conditions include: "serious misconduct, willful disobedience or (sic) employer's lawful orders, habitual neglect of duties, absenteeism, insubordination, revealing secrets of establishment, engaging in trade union activities, when employee violates customs, traditions, and laws of Pohnpei Federated States of Micronesia and/or terms of this Agreement. The employee shall shoulder the repatriation expenses."

However, paragraph two, entitled "Contract Duration" says, "One year and or until the project is finished commencing from employee's departure from the point of origin to the site of employment."

Besides Captain Camacho, remaining crew members include Carlito Dongon who was hired as the Chief Officer at a rate of $2500 per month; William Ompoy who was hired as Second Officer at a rate of $2,000 per month; Theody Plaza, second officer, $2,000; Ernesto T. Gomez, and Antero Pulmano who were both hired as engineers at a rate of $2000 each, and Geofrey Delica, Engine rating/oiler hired at $677 per month.