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Victory for seafarers’ safety as Dutch court sides with unions on container lashing

08 Jul 2022
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Unions have secured an important victory in the campaign for seafarers’ safety this week as a Dutch court has ruled that ship managers, ship owners and charterers must honour a clause that prevents seafarers from being assigned dangerous lashing work where professional dock workers are available.

In 2020, the ITF, FNV Havens and Nautilus NL took the case against Marlow Cyprus, Marlow Netherlands and Expert Shipping over their refusal to adhere to the Non-Seafarers’ Work Clause to court in the Netherlands. The companies signed up to the agreement in 2018 and the clause came into force two years later.

The ruling from the Rotterdam District Court means that the companies who employ seafarers on shipowners’ behalf, must ensure that cargo handling must be performed by trained local dock workers where possible, and not given to seafarers as an additional responsibility.

The decision means greater safety for seafarers and also secures jobs for dockers.

The court emphasised the importance of the proper implementation of agreements reached through social dialogue and the binding nature of such agreements. It also reaffirmed the ‘Albany exemption’ which provides that collective bargaining agreements are exempt from certain requirements of EU competition law. 

“The court makes clear that the parties are bound to the terms of the agreement. Given the weight attached to social dialogue within the European Union, and in the principle statements of companies – it is of paramount importance that they follow through. That starts with employers doing what they say they will,” said ITF President and Dockers’ Section Chair, Paddy Crumlin.

“Employers like those we’ve won this important case against, have been reminded this week by the court about what it actually means to be a social partner. It means doing what you say you’ll do. It means keeping your word.”

“Seafarers, dockers and our unions have upheld our parts of the agreement, which has delivered these companies stable profits. This case is a big step forward in our campaign, but we won’t be happy until we get all charterers to respect the clause.”

“Now, it is time for these employers, particularly short sea shipping charterers, to return to true social dialogue and restore good faith with unions, this must include working with shipowners to implement the Non-Seafarers’ Work Clause.” 

“Our industry has important issues to tackle together, and we will continue to be part of the IBF process that has improved wages and working conditions for seafarers for almost 20 years,” said Crumlin.

ITF Dockers' Section vice-chair Niek Stam, who is also the leader of Dutch dockers’ union FNV Havens, said the ruling was both a victory for seafarers’ safety and for dockers’ jobs.

"Those who don't fight will never win. This is the only logical outcome of the lawsuit. Otherwise a signature would no longer be worth anything. A deal is a deal," said Stam.

“Lashing can be extremely unsafe for seafarers, who are often untrained in port operations, such as the dangers of moving cranes. Automated terminals and supply chain pressures have further increased these dangers to ships’ crew,” he said.

ETF General Secretary Livia Spera said, “This ruling makes clear to shipowners and others that it is a legal requirement to honour the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.”

“This is the result of years of hard work from the union side and this verdict represents a victory for both seafarers and dockers. It is about the safety of our transport workers, it is about the obligation of the charterers to use the specialised workforce of dockers, and to not exploit seafarers’ safety in this way.” 

Key findings of the case:

  • The clause serves the safety of seafarers. Any secondary effects (such as protecting dockers’ jobs) are not relevant 
  • Solidarity between dockers and seafarers is not undesirable
  • Marlow must ensure that the clause is respected and adhered to by charterers
  • The importance of social dialogue is repeatedly highlighted and the need for agreements to be honoured