TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH FOR UNDOCUMENTED WORKER

Justice for the Family of Joel Alama – Deceased (03 December 1968 – 28 August 2015)

The family of deceased undocumented Filipino fisherman Joel Alama who died in a workplace accident have finally achieved justice almost three years after his death, resulting to Improvements in Irish Fishing Vessel Health & Safety Policies.

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Forty-six-year-old Joel Alama died at Letterkenny University Hospital in County Donegal, Ireland on August 28, 2015, four days after a workplace incident in which he made efforts to save the life of his fellow crew member James Joyce who also died in the same incident on board the Oileán an Óir. Despite the very best medical care, James passed away after a number of hours and Joel passed away four days later. Toxic gas from a mixture of stagnant water and seawater in the boat’s refrigeration system killed the two fishermen. The vessel nor the crewmen had equipment to monitor the atmospheres within the tanks.

A negligence claim was submitted and an out-of-court settlement payment was agreed. In June 2018, Joel’s family has received compensation that can last them more than a lifetime. The Ministry of Transport have established improved Health and Safety workplace regulations for fishing vessels.

Joel was a qualified automotive mechanic from Sarangani province in the Philippines.

Although no amount of compensation will bring Joel back, the family achieved justice in that the memory of Joel was honoured and will continue to be remembered not only by an estimated 700 undocumented fishermen in Ireland but also by other migrant groups in the country.

Undocumented migrants, who may not be having it easy and continue to live in the shadows, have the right to a safe workplace and can be protected by law. Regardless of the immigration status, the health and safety of any worker is the employer’s priority and responsibility.

Joel heroically made the ultimate sacrifice in attempting to rescue James and for that, we recognise him for his brave action as we celebrate his life this month.

Joel and his family would not have achieved justice they deserved without the family’s full cooperation, the care and support of the staff of Letterkenny University Hospital, Emergency Services/Gardai/Fire Brigade/Ambulance Paramedic in Donegal, the assistance of Raymond Garrett and Vanda Brady of Outreach Ireland, and the expertise of the legal team.

A full and transparent report on the services rendered was submitted to both legal teams and recently to the Philippine Embassy London.

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After the settlement, Raymond and Vanda went to General Santos City on 31st of May 2018 to meet Joel’s wife Tessie, their children Joel Jr. and Jacinth, and Joel’s sister Maimai, and to help open a Euro Account so Tessie can receive the payment immediately. They also set up an education trust for the children and gave the family a “Token of Justice” in memory of Joel. They also had a meeting with Executive Officer Joven Sienes of GenSan City Hall to share the good news on the triumph of a “Bagong Bayani” who was from town. Coincidentally, it was National Fisherfolks Day in the Philippines on May 31, 2018, which is celebrated annually “to give recognition to the rightful stewards and beneficiaries of our oceans and its natural resources as well as our lakes, gulfs, bays and other fishing areas.”

They arranged a Press Conference on the 1st of June with ABS-CBN TV Patrol SOCSKSARGEN, GMA 7, and Ronda Brigada.

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The Alama case highlights the following achievements that the local community in the Philippines and the rest of the world should know:

  1. Joel Alama, a local resident of General Santos City and Sarangani Province, was considered a hero in Ireland. He made the ultimate sacrifice in the effort to rescue his fellow crew member. Although no amount of compensation will bring Joel back, the family achieved justice in that the memory of Joel was honoured and will continue to be remembered not only by an estimated 700 undocumented fishermen in Ireland but also by other migrant groups in the country.
  2. Undocumented migrants, who may not be having it easy and continue to live in the shadows, have the right to a safe workplace and can be protected by law. Regardless of the immigration status, the health and safety of any worker is the employer’s priority and responsibility.
  3. Lessons were learned from this terrible tragedy. Recommendations to have necessary safeguards, monitoring equipment, training and protocols were introduced to prevent similar tragedies in the future.  The death of Joel triggered authorities to introduce mandatory monitoring of sea water refrigeration systems (RSW) on trawlers, where hydrogen sulphide and other noxious fumes could be generated, to issue marine notices warning fishing crews of the dangers of toxic gas on board vessels, and to consider mechanisms to address the safety aspects of design, construction and operation of RSW systems and the generation of toxic gases.
  4. Joel and his family would not have achieved justice they deserved without the family’s full cooperation, the care and support of the staff of Letterkenny University Hospital, Emergency Services/Gardai/Fire Brigade/Ambulance Paramedic in Donegal, Raymond and Vanda’s hard work, and the expertise of the legal team.