SEATTLE (CN) - A federal class action claims Holland America Tours promised thousands of Filipino workers "free passage" to jobs on ships, then demanded thousands of dollars in reimbursement from each of them, under threat of dumping them off at the next port. The lead plaintiff says he was dumped in Florida after the steamship company demanded nearly one-third of his annual salary for its travel "reimbursement."
Romeo Balen says his contract with the Philippines Overseas Employment Agency provided "free passage from the point of hire to the port of embarkation."
But when Balen got his first paycheck, he was told, "The purser will give you your entire pay. You will be required to hand back to the purser your reimbursement amount."
Holland America "contrived 'reimbursement' as a means make the seafarer pay for his travel expense as a willful and specious attempt" to circumvent U.S. law that prohibits employers from deducting costs directly, the complaint states.
When Balen could afford to pay only $575 of the $2,119 reimbursement demanded, he was fired and left in Fort Lauderdale, according to the complaint.
Balen says the travel fees were almost a third of his expected $6,885 yearly salary.
His complaint claims that more than 2,500 Holland America workers still on the job were or may have been affected by this, and more than 7,500 workers in all may have been affected, making the damages run into the millions.
The class claims Holland America violated the Seaman's Wage Act and "extracted in excess of $20 million in undeserved profits from the pockets of desperate, poorly paid seamen."
Also named as defendants are cruise lines HAL Antillen, HAL Nederland, and 13 ships, including the ocean liners Statendam, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam.
The class seeks the wages deducted for "reimbursement" of travel costs from the Philippines. They are represented by Charles Moure with Harris & Moure.
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