'Not our employees'
On February 24, workers onboard Love Merben 2, including Redoble, were able to arrive safely in their homes in General Santos City.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) arranged for their repatriation, vowing to bill Citra Mina for the government expenses.
In an interview with Rappler, Citra Mina spokesperson Fred Lumba denied any employer-employee relationship between the company and the workers of Love Merben 2.
Love Merben 2 was owned by Citra Mina's long-time fish supplier Felisa Ave, Lumba said. "Sa totoo lang, dahil wala ngang employer-employee relationship, wala kaming responsibility," he explained. (The truth is, because there is no employer-employee relationship, we have no responsibility.)
Sentro had alleged that Citra Mina was merely using Felisa Ave as a dummy, shown by her financial incapacity to act as supplier. Citra Mina finances Love Merben 2 and directly deals with the workers, it said.
Redoble and his fellow fishermen say it is Citra Mina management that pays them directly and gives them money before heading to sea. Citra Mina ships also fetch from their mother vessel their catch every now and then during their 3-month fishing operations, he added.
Under what is called a "cabo" system, Sentro's Mata explained that fishing firms use dummies to deny an employer-employee relationship and evade a law-mandated provision of workers' benefits.
He alleged that Citra Mina knowingly sent an illegal fishing expedition and must compensate the arrested workers accordingly.
'Necessary and desirable' work
Mata said fishermen like Redoble are still likely to return to their work, despite their experience in jail and now the denial of Citra Mina of any responsibility to compensate them for their arrest.
Redoble himself recalled his first pay from Citra Mina. "Dahil first time ko, nabigla ako. First time ko na naka-receive ng P25,000 (Because it was my first time, I was shocked. It was my first time to have ever received P25,000)," he said.
Yet Redoble currently does not enjoy full protection under the law granted to regular workers of a company.
Company regulars are defined by the Labor Code as those who have rendered more than 6 months of work that is "necessary and desirable" in the ordinary course of a company's operations.
"Citra Mina is a tuna exporting firm. How can it exist without tuna?" asked Mata rhetorically. – Rappler.com