Sunday, August 10, 2014

Transport Union Congress Slates Human Costs of Improving Freight and Passenger Vessel Passage

ITF Takes Issue With Panamanian Government over Working Conditions as Canal Redevelopment Goes Ahead
Shipping News Feature

BULGARIA – PANAMA – WORLDWIDE – The largest ever world congress of the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) began today in Sofia, Bulgaria and one of the first items up for discussion was the safety and pay levels at the Panama Canal which is undergoing major works at the moment to accommodate larger vessels. In order to increase revenues by transiting ever larger freight and passenger vessels more than 9,000 affiliated maritime workers are currently employed within the canal zone as the 44-mile canal currently undergoes a $5.25bn redevelopment, which will see the addition of two new locks and two new channels.

Representatives from four Panamanian unions, accompanied by ITF leadership, today met with International Labor Organisation (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder at the ITF congress in Sofia, Bulgaria and submitted an application to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) against the Government of Panama alleging violation of Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining by the Panama Canal Authority. A video of the dispute can be seen here and the unions allege the Panama Canal Authority has failed to provide decent pay and safe working conditions.

The ITF Congress, in Sofia’s National Palace of Culture, will bring together almost 2000 people, including staff and participants from 379 trade unions in 116 countries, and is the 43rd world congress in the ITF’s 118 year history. It is the organisation’s supreme decision making event, at which its affiliated trade unions set the agenda for the next four years, and elect its executive board, president, vice presidents and general secretary. Congress 2014 is being hosted by the ITF’s affiliated Bulgarian unions, with special support from the Federation of Transport Trade Unions of Bulgaria (FTTUB), whose President, Ekaterina Yordanova, commented:

“It is with huge pleasure that we welcome our comrades from around the world. We are proud to be equal members of a multinational union federation where rich and poor, large and small, have equal rights and share the same values. Our youth, who are our promise for the future, have been preparing for months to participate, vote and welcome our visitors.

“We know the power of being a member of the ITF and we want to share it with all transport workers in this region. We believe that regional co-operation will give more strength to cross-border initiatives and also more opportunities for global campaigning – because we are convinced that in a globalising world the challenges ahead can only be overcome through a global union response.”

This is also the first paper-free and fully digital ITF congress, so that even those unions that can’t attend can participate in nine languages via the interactive website. A video message from Ekaterina Yordanova welcoming delegates to the event can be seen here.

Photo: ITF acting General Secretary Steve Cotton hands over a complaint to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) to ILO Director-General Guy Ryder at the ITF congress in Sofia, Bulgaria.