Faced with the peculiarity of the seafaring profession, when it comes to organizing and consolidating the ranks of its membership for specific actions, the leadership of UFS has evolved a system wherein any member on land or on vacation can be called on short notice. This enables the union to mount rallies and other forms of mass action to promote its objectives.

Likewise, its ability to call its members on short notice has proved useful in its advocacy of social issues that also affects the seafarers and their families. Among these are the fight against drug abuse, to which, UFS regularly mounts mammoth rallies at the Quirino Grandstand and other public places like Mendiola in front of the official residence of the President of the Philippines to ventilate the dangers of drug abuse and the threat it poses against society.

In conducting coastal clean-up and in participating to various anti-marine pollution campaigns, a large contingent of UFS members are easily noticed with their now all-too-familiar streamers and t-shirts with the UFS logo and the union’s three-letter acronym in bold, easily-recognized color and letters.

In recent years, however, the advocacy of UFS for seafarers’ rights and welfare has taken a more challenging and broader course. With members needing representation and assistance while onboard ocean-going vessels, the UFS leadership has no recourse but to “face the problem and resolve the problem where the problem is.”

The UFS has also actively embraced the challenging task of conquering borders and negotiating with shipowners of every nationality to protect the interest of seafarers, especially those of UFS members. In many instances, the union comes face to face and nearly in direct confrontation, with such giants as the International Transportworkers Federation (ITF) and the International Shipping Federation. But in many of these encounters, UFS stood its ground and won his battles, Engr. Ramirez sums up the formula of UFS’ victories with his own rephrase of a famous saying: “Being right is being might.”

The most recent of UFS’ victories over the ITF came in January 2007 in Sweden when a Swedish labor court ruled in favor UFS and the Greek shipowner whose vessel had an existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with UFS but nonetheless boycotted by a local Swedish labor union. Immediately following the boycott by the Swedish union on the vessel Rickmers Tianjin in 2000, Engr. Ramirez flew to Sweden, along with an official of the Greek shipowner to negotiate with the local union that shortened boycott on the ship. But since financial damage has already been done on the part of the shipowner, the Greek shipowner and Engr. Ramirez filed charges against the local Swedish union for going ‘out of bounds’ in the case and the recent decision of the Swedish labor court just proved that the UFS CBA is indeed a force to reckon with even in the international front.

In many of his official sorties abroad, Engr. Ramirez takes advantage of the opportunities these travels offer. He makes use of the brief respites between negotiations to create a UFS international network.

In Rotterdam, he has organized the Friends of UFS which is now being coordinated by his brother Bobby and his wife Elly, with a lot of help from their son Philip and daughter Cathelijn.

In the United States, the Kaibigan ng UFS was set up with the help of Fr. Cornish Espino and Fr. James Kollin. Together with Aida Grace Ramirez-Maniwang, sister of Engr. Ramirez, and her husband, lawyer Nilo O. Maniwang, the seafarers’ center was set up in suburban New Jersey.

In the years that followed, Engr, Ramirez was invited by the Korean Seafarers’ Federation of Busan, South Korea, where he signed an agreement with Capt. B.S. Sae, leading to the creation of a seaman’s center there that will assist Filipino seafarers during their stay in that country.

During the trip to South Korea, Engr. Ramirez was introduced by Capt. Bae to a former Russian second officer, Kovalev Olez, also known as Alex, with whom he laid down plans for the creation of another seafarers’ center for Filipinos in Vladivostok.

Likewise, several members of the UFS has established residence in different parts of the world and has since formed country units of the maritime union, the latest being the formation of UFS Greece Chapter in mid-2006.

In the local front, UFS has also built and strengthened fraternal ties with government and private agencies, institutions, and organizations working for seafarers. These include the International Transportworkers Federation, Kaibigan ng UFS, Apostleship of the Sea, International Labor Organization, International Maritime Organization, Center for Seafarers’ Rights, International Christian Maritime Association, South Korean Seafarers Federation, and many others.


Related Stories