by Cynthia Flores/Asianjournal.com
SCOTTISH newspapers reported that the town of Fraserburgh, Scotland, dubbed as the heroin capital of Britain, is slowly being transformed by Filipinos. Fraserburgh has undergone many years of darkness as fishing boat skippers struggled to find crew members who were not high on drugs or too exhausted from the latest binge to even turn up for work. It is the largest shellfish port in Europe and a major white fish port and busy commercial harbour.
Newspapers reported that after years of gloom, the fishing port is enjoying a cautious revival after adopting a radical solution to ensure its boats no longer have to rely on drug-addicted locals — by recruiting Filipinos from the other side of the world, known for their clean living and strict Roman Catholicism.
There are now up to 100 Filipino fishermen in Fraserburgh alone, while dozens more are working on trawlers based in Peterhead, Eyemouth and other ports in England. In total, it is estimated that there are between 300 and 700 Filipino fishermen working in Britain.
While the ports used to be filled with muscular, tough-looking Scots who manned its boats, the slight and slim figures of Pinoy fishermen in the ports is now becoming an increasingly common sight.
“I came here to work, not to be happy,” says 42-year-old Pampilo Bagaubthe Philippines. “I want to earn money to send home to my family, not to buy whisky.”
As young Filipino men arrive in increasing numbers in the fishing ports that were written off as economic hell holes with no future, the face of Scottish fishing is being transformed. The churches in Fraserburg have also seen a marked uplift in attendances, with one church reporting getting minibuses to collect the Filipinos from their boats every Sunday. Even the local college has benefited: 12 out of 16 students attending its Saturday morning net-mending course are now Filipinos.
Peter Willcox, who has three Filipinos among his five crew, says that their impact cannot be exaggerated. “We wouldn’t be able to put out to sea without them,” he says. “They are great workers, but most of all you can trust them. They won’t come home drunk or off their faces.”
Pointing to neighbouring boats in the harbour, he adds: “He’s got three, there’s two in that one and another four there. With some boats, it’s very nearly all Filipino crew.”
The local shipyard is now so busy that it has a two-year backlog on new boat orders while, in a symbolic gesture of confidence, Fraserburgh’s harbour commissioners resurrected their annual dinner and trophy presentation last month for the first time in 17 years. It did not go unnoticed that one of the winning boats had Filipino crew members.
Although some are paid as little as £270 (P22,500.00) per month, for the more experienced Filipino fishermen – trawl masters or engineers – the salary rises to £620 (P61,648.00). Almost all are employed through Super Manning, a Philippines-based agency that arranges fixed 10-month contracts with British-based fishing vessels.
The trawlers also pay them a “catch bonus” depending on the amount of fish they land, as well as return flights home and board and lodging on the boats. Even when the vessels are tied up in harbour, they sleep on board.
“In real terms they’re not that much cheaper because we pay for their flights home, for their food and to keep the electricity running when the boat is in harbour,” said Willcox.
“When I picked them up from the airport our first stop was to get them fleeces and survival suits because they had turned up with completely inappropriate clothes – shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops.”
According to immigration regulations, the Filipinos only require UK transit visas to work on British-based fishing boats, so long as the vessels spend most of the time operating in international waters – at least 12 miles out to sea.
Ross Middleton, fish sales manager at Fraserburgh Inshore Fishermen, a co-operative of 14 boats, said that the move to employ Filipinos had begun within the past year.
“The skippers were complaining that they couldn’t find good crew and we heard that there was someone on the west coast who had been using them. They are hard-working and relatively cheap. They are good guys,” he said.
Although a few locals have expressed resentment towards the Filipinos, most have been happy to accept them.
For Ryan Latis, 32, who arrived in Fraserburgh last year and sends two-thirds of his wages back home to support his wife and 10-year-old son, the future is bright. He previously worked on Japanese and Indonesian trawlers, where conditions were harsh by comparison.
“It’s cold here but I like the people,” he says. “I don’t have a house in the Philippines. I hope that if I stay here for maybe five years, then I can buy one.”