Seafarers face rough employment climate By Ye Lwin via MMTimes FOR most people international shipping remains something of a mystery, with those immense international cargo ships confirming the proverb “out of sight, out of mind”. Myanmar, however, has built a strong reputation as a provider of top quality seafarers, with many families in Yangon having at least one member employed in the field. But the international economic crisis has put a severe dent in global shipping, which is by far the greatest transporter of commodities worldwide. That chill in shipping demand is having a direct impact here, with 70 percent of the 68,000 registered seamen now unemployed, statistics from the Myanmar Seamen Employment Association (MYAN SEA) show. Before the crisis there were 40,000 employed seafarers but now there are only 20,000 registered as working with the Seaman Employment Control Division, the Ministry of Transport’s maritime body, said U Phone Myint Lu, president of MYAN SEA. “For the time being, two-thirds of seamen are unemployed and looking for international shipping work,” U Phone Myint Lu said. He said finding a job in the labour market is now a tall order because work is scarce and competition for those available positions fierce. “No leading representatives from the international shipping lines are recruiting seafarers with no experience,” said U Kyaw Zeya Thein, a local representative of KL Shipping Agencies. Only experienced seamen have a chance, he said, adding that even those with a strong work history are struggling. “In 2000, more than half of our available seafarers were employed by international shipping lines,” said U Naing Myint, managing director of Honesty Shipping Lines. “But the majority are now unemployed.” He added that the number of Myanmar seafarers working at officer level has declined sharply in the past 10 years, with about 70pc now working as ordinary seafarers. “We need more training to enhance their capacities and prepare them for long-term employment, just like the Filipino seafarers,” he said. There are about 120 official international shipping agencies recruiting seafarers. About 90pc are recruiters for cargo shops, with the final 10pc looking for workers for cruise liners. Most workers who do find work end up being employed by shipping lines based in South Korea, Japan or Germany. U Phone Myint Lu, who recruits seamen and hotel staff for international cruise lines, including those based in US, told The Myanmar Times that there are about four or five agencies operating for cruise lines here. He said the difference between the two industries was that there was an extensive pool of skilled workers available for the cargo lines but far fewer for the cruise lines, mainly because of a lack of hospitality skills. The recruitment of Myanmar seafarers for cruise lines only started a decade ago but is becoming more popular because it’s seen as a more likely job prospect, he said. Before the global financial crisis, there was a proposed recruitment of Myanmar seamen by several Taiwan-based shipping lines under an agreement between the Myanmar Overseas Seafarers Association (MOSA) and the National Chinese Seamen’s Union. About 300,000 Filipino seafarers are currently employed under similar agreements. “But that has now been delayed,” a senior MOSA official said last week.