SINGAPORE - Seamen like Mr Mohamed Idris Mohamed Ibrahim get to see the world on their jobs, but when it comes to employment rights, they are sometimes left vulnerable.
"We are not covered under the Employment Act, and the conditions on the ship can be tough at times," said Mr Idris, 67, who joined the Singapore Organisation of Seamen in 1973.
After retiring from sailing in 1991, he served at the union as an industrial relations officer. He later served as its president from 2009 to 2015, working with seamen and maritime authorities to address grievances that sailors in Singapore-registered vessels faced.
In one of the cases he handled around 2009, a sailor working on a ship in Europe was dismissed without notice. The employer ordered him to pay the repatriation fee of $4,000 - more than double his monthly salary of $1,200. The employer also withheld his passport as he could not pay up.
"This man had a wife in Malaysia, and he could not see his family even though he had been away from them for four months," recalled Mr Idris.
It was only after the Singapore Organisation of Seamen stepped in, in consultation with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), that the company's management returned the worker's passport and compensated him for being dismissed without notice.
Last Saturday (May 5), Mr Idris received a Veteran of Labour award, given to retired trade unionists who have made significant contributions to the labour movement.
He was among 90 individuals and 113 organisations who received May Day awards from NTUC.
Another award winner is Mr Danny Lien, president of the Singapore Association of Shipsuppliers and Services, who won the Working People's Advocate award.
Seeing how the marine logistics industry has been affected by the tightening of the foreign worker quota in recent years, Mr Lien, 55, worked with the Employment and Employability Institute to launch a series of adult training courses last year, geared at attracting local talent to the industry.
"People view the shipping industry as dirty and dangerous, with long hours. But we're hoping for people to see that the industry can be a vibrant one, through these courses," he said.