Monday, February 20, 2017

Seafaring Trades Unions Row Over Minimum Crew Wages Aboard Vessels

Fight Breaks Out in Race to the Bottom
Shipping News Feature
UKRAINE – It seems that the country’s troubles are not only caused by exterior forces, with the revelation that a small coalition of Ukrainian trade unions have gone against the wage structures negotiated for seafarers by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and recognised as a monthly minimum, which for AB’s stands at $1,806, and for which the consortium are offering to provide labour for approximately $801 less per month.

The initiative was raised by the UMTUF, WTSUFU and UIMTU trade unions, which collectively founded the Ukrainian National Platform of Maritime Trade Unions (UNPMTU) with UMTUF appearing to be the driving force. The ITF says the new consortium is ‘touting for business by promising to undercut agreed and negotiated conditions’. The ITF did not mince words in its response to the offer, with ITF seafarers’ section chair David Heindel commenting:

“There is no indication that any shipowner has fallen for this offer yet. They will be aware that a union proposing to reduce negotiated conditions for seafarers is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by the ITF. Similarly the ITF will consider any shipowner trying to take advantage of this dodgy deal as attempting to attack the hard won and hard earned rights of seafarers, and inviting the consequences.”

As belts tighten throughout the world of shipping globally it is all too easy for owners and ship managers to look to cut costs by employing vessels flagged in convenience locations and foreign crews, sometimes working under appalling conditions. The Marine Transport Workers' Trade Union of Ukraine (MTWTU) is a recognised member union of the ITF and it’s first vice chairman, Oleg Grigoryuk, was plainly annoyed at the news saying:

“Ukrainian seafarers are known worldwide for their skills and hard work. This new outfit’s attempt to undermine their rights and pay is a deeply cynical and distasteful move. Trade unions are meant to defend the rights and conditions of workers, not collude to remove them.”

For its part UNPMTU is unapologetic, according to the group its desire for a new collective bargaining agreement is to find working places for Ukrainian seafarers, provide shipowners with skilled seamen and break the monopoly established in the Ukrainian maritime labour market. It says the parlous state of the industry has led to an influx of cheap crews from India, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries all prepared to work for that $1,000 - $1,100 minimum wage.

The claim is that many Ukrainian ratings are happy to work for the lower figure and that the MTWTU is actually the only trade union in the industry affiliated to the ITF. It says that the MTWTU has ‘ignored numerous requests from crewing agencies and shipowners for years’ and that it deals on unequal terms with different employers leading to a monopoly which offers different minimum terms to differing shipping companies.

Just last week the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada (SIUC) scored a major victory over its national government which had tried to circumvent its own agreed terms and conditions by employing cheap foreign labour. This type of tactic is by no means unusual for vessel owners, whilst far less likely from governments, and virtually unheard of from true unionists. Unions can be as awkward and obstructive as any employer but the argument is that only by cooperative agreements and fair working conditions can standards, including health and safety, be properly maintained and regulated. ITF president Paddy Crumlin wasted few words concluding:

“This offer is a tawdry attempt to drum up business at the expense of the very workers these so-called unions are meant to represent. It’s notable that the leader of this appears to be the UMTUF, a union that the ITF had to suspend from membership, and whose expulsion has now become increasingly likely.”