Friday, September 27, 2013

Maritime Labour Convention Starts to Bite Freight and Shipping Transgressors

Union Protests and Vessel Detentions World Wide Following Last Month's Ratification by IMO
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – SWITZERLAND – CANADA – DENMARK – The ratification of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) on 20 August 2013 has not taken long for the effects on shipowners and operators to be felt across the world. Unions clearly now feel legally empowered to highlight those companies they perceive to be transgressing the Conventions conditions, and it seems that there are darker areas in the freight and shipping community which are now under scrutiny. This month has seen vessels detained and worldwide protests as contraventions are exposed.

A high level trade union delegation from several countries gathered in the small Swiss town of Châtel-St-Denis yesterday, 26 September, to question the behaviour of a global company headquartered there. They are visiting Switzerland to press home demands that offshore pipeline installation and subsea construction company Allseas Group SA abides by its and Switzerland’s obligations under international conventions and recognises the union rights of those working for it.

A union campaign for union rights at Allseas is already under way and yesterday a letter of protest, signed by ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) offshore taskforce group chair Norrie McVicar, was delivered to the company which explains the unions’ case. It states:

“As you will be aware, affiliates of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have been writing to your company for over 10 years seeking dialogue with you on the question of union representation for the respective members of our unions. Unfortunately, for the mariners employed by Allseas, the response to the ITF affiliates over the years has been negative. We very much hope that following the formal adoption of the MLC which was developed at the ILO in Geneva and already ratified by countries accounting for 75% of the world merchant fleet,the company will now reconsider its position.

“We are sure you are aware that the MLC has been produced with the aim of becoming the ‘fourth pillar’ of global maritime regulation, alongside existing international conventions on safety at sea, marine pollution, and seafarer training and certification. It aims to promote decent living and working conditions in the shipping industry, and to prevent exploitation and unfair competition. It also upholds the principles of freedom of association and the rights to fair terms of employment.

“We believe that the MLC, which is also known as the ‘Bill of Rights for Seafarers’, will deliver significant benefits to the international shipping industry and will also be a valuable tool in the area of on-board health and safety. It supports the creation of elected safety committee representatives, and the consequent process of dialogue and workforce involvement should contribute to improved safety processes, helping to reduce the risk of offshore disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the USA.

“There has been an unprecedented level of international support for the implementation of the MLC by governments, employers and trade unions. In the true spirit of tripartism, we urge Allseas (which is based in Switzerland, the home of the ILO) to review its values and join with us and the international maritime community to implement this new bill of rights for seafarers in its fullest form.”

The delegation consisted of representatives of international trade unions including: IndustriALL global union (headquartered in Switzerland); Nautilus International (from the UK, Netherlands and Switzerland); the UK’s RMT (The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers); France’s CFDT; Belgium’s ACV-Transcom; Germany’s ver.di union; the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA); the Maritime Union of New Zealand (Munz); Norway’s Industri Energi; Indonesia’s KPI (Kesatuan Pelaut Indonesia) – among others. They were assisted by the Swiss cantonal trade union organisation the USFR/FRGB (Union syndicale fribourgeoise/Freiburger Gewerkschaftsbund).

This event was mirrored in India, with a demonstration held at the company’s offices in Mumbai, India, on the same day. In Perth, Australia, trade unionists from the MUA delivered a letter of protest to the company office there, while in the US, members of the SIU (Seafarers International Union) took a letter to the company’s Houston office. Meanwhile the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union is organising a week of action examining offshore vessels working on the Norwegian continental shelf.

Earlier this month the ITF praised port state control in Canada and Denmark for their action in detaining two vessels under offences against the MLC. In Canada the Lia M was detained, and in Denmark the Atlantic Carrier was held. Both were stopped over lack of employment contracts. In the case of the Lia M crew complaints included unpaid wages; a ‘collective bargaining agreement’ that lacked the vessel name, a date or a wage scale; crew with no money, no shampoo, toothpaste or other items; a crew member who had twice been refused access to a doctor; and crew members having been forced to sign blank contracts.

Following union led intervention, all the outstanding matters were swiftly resolved and the vessels were made MLC compliant leaving them free to proceed. At the time ITF seafarers’ section Chair Dave Heindel commented:

“It’s great to see the MLC in action. These were serious infringements and remedial action has been swiftly taken. These detentions should be a wake up call to shipowners who are not complying with the MLC, and a further reminder to those countries who haven’t yet ratified of why they need to.”

Photo: The Swiss protest under way.