Eight battles unions are fighting for cruise ship seafarers

The cruise industry and seafarers are having a brutal impact from the Covid-19 pandemic.  However, attention has been focused mainly on the passengers, while the plight of seafarers has mostly gone unnoticed and underreported.  Seafarers are not second-class citizens and deserve the same treatment and respect as the cruise passengers. Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports

Governments have concentrated their efforts on finding solutions to disembark passengers and return them to their home.  At the same time, it has been a struggle for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and affiliates to get the same governments to recognize the rights of seafarers and the need to disembark and repatriate them.  

The ITF has also been working to ensure that seafarers are defined as key workers and receive the same protections, rights, wages and healthcare as other frontline workers.

Most vessels engaged in international shipping are registered on a Flag of Convenience (FOC) register, which means that the ship flies the flag of a country other than the country of ownership.  The seafarers on board are from all over the world, the majority from developing countries who work on a contract-to-contract basis.  FoC flag states often have fewer labor or welfare regulations covering seafarers, and companies pay little or no tax.

The FoC system dominates the shipping industry and leaves seafarers vulnerable in situations like the current unprecedented coronavirus crisis since seafarers will be ineligible to receive national social security protections from the flag state, the country of ownership or the seafarer’s country of domicile.  The only protection most international seafarers have is what unions have negotiated with companies on their behalf.

The ITF and its affiliates are advocating for eight actions from cruise ship operators.

  • Working with cruise lines that are covered by an ITF agreement with the aim to ensure income protection for seafarers in the short-term
  • Ensuring that ITF agreements that include severance pay for seafarers being repatriated before their contracts expire are honored
  • Ensuring that seafarers who have offered to voluntarily to remain onboard, work reduced hours
  • Demanding increased connectivity for seafarers that remain onboard
  • Working with cruise lines and other industry stakeholders to ensure safe repatriation of seafarers
  • Ensuring proper medical attention for ill seafarers and assisting seafarers in emergency situations
  • Ensuring that seafarers who are stranded in transit are provided accommodation and food
  • Negotiating with companies to ensure priority right to return to work once the crisis has ended

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