ITF wants Maersk to treat tug workers fairly 

Record profits being announced by AP Moller-Maersk risk not being shared fairly with workers who delivered the company its historic results unless Maersk leadership take stronger action to rein in anti-union practices within Svitzer, the company’s tug division.

Unions representing workers across Maersk’s supply chain addressed shareholders at the group’s AGM in Copenhagen March 15 on the company’s labor rights performance over the past year.

“Today AP Moller-Maersk posted a record profit $24 billion – three times larger than last year, a sum larger than the entire annual national budgets of Slovenia, Lithuania or Nigeria,” said ITF Maritime Coordinator Jacqueline Smith.

“We don’t begrudge Maersk their success, but what we do object to is that these record profits, derived mostly from record-high container prices seen during the pandemic, aren’t being shared with the workers who have actually generated their success.”

In February, AP Moller-Maersk updated its earnings and profit guidance for the 2021 year-end to announce an expected revenue of US$61.8 billion (a 55% increase on 2020) and an expected US$24 billion profit (up 293% from 2020).

“It’s undisputable that the company’s success is a testament to the effort put in by its workforce over the past year working throughout this pandemic. Instead of rewarding them for this achievement with better pay and security, Maersk is leaving some of its workers behind by failing to live up to their own principles,” said Smith.

While the ITF praised Maersk’s continuing leadership on climate, including its work with seafarers’ unions on the just transition needed to transform the shipping sector, Smith said Maersk Group had failed workers in its towage and trucking sectors.

Shareholders were presented with clear cases where the company’s towage arm, Svitzer, had violated Maersk’s own values and standards on labor rights.

Maersk Group’s values are laid out in its Sustainability Report 2021 where the company commits to treating workers with respect and fairness, including this statement: “constructive employee relations can only exist by respecting the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, which means actively engaging with trade unions”.

“There is a disconnect emerging between Maersk’s global values and what we see on the ground through the conduct of its subsidiaries,” said Smith. “And today Maersk’s shareholders have heard evidence of Svitzer’s active attempts to undermine the rights, pay and conditions of tug workers in Australia, the Netherlands and the UK – including these workers’ fundamental right to collectively bargain,” said Smith.

Svitzer management in Australia has gone against Maersk’s global commitment to support collective bargaining, with the company applying to Australia’s Fair Work Commission to terminate the collective bargaining agreement covering its entire Australian workforce. 

In the Netherlands, the company has established a second corporate entity which is refusing to establish a collective agreement with unions. In the UK, Svitzer management has announced plans to freeze the pay of tug workers at Teesport, which has pushed tug staff to vote 100% in favor of strike action.

“It’s time for Svitzer to live up to live up to Maersk Group’s values, recognise tug workers’ efforts, and engage with our unions at the negotiating table,” said Smith.

Reports from drivers within Maersk’s contracted trucking operations detailing “inhumane conditions and severe infringements on their rights” were also presented to shareholders and management for urgent attention and resolution.

“We implore Maersk and all its divisions to be accountable to their promises to: ‘respect and uphold fundamental labor rights and determinedly pursue constructive employee relations’. This call has been backed by over 1,700 people who have already signed a new petition launched just days ago that will be handed over to the company CEOs,” concluded Smith.

Photo credit: iStock/ Suriyapong Thongsawang

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