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ITF Statement on second postponement of International Bargaining Forum negotiations

09 Apr 2021

Maritime employers in the International Bargaining Forum (IBF) have argued for and secured a second deferral of IBF ‘cost negotiations’ to the disappointment of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

The negotiations are an important part of agreeing wages and conditions for seafarers in the global shipping industry.

Unions and employers, the parties in the IBF, were to meet in 2020 to agree an uplift in seafarer wages for 2021-2022. The negotiating meeting was initially scheduled for March 2020, but the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic led to an agreed deferment of the talks until July 2020.

In June 2020, employer representatives from the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG) requested that the negotiations be postponed until early 2021, on the basis that the parties were unable to meet in person due to the risk of Covid-19 and governmental travel bans. The ITF was reluctant at the time of JNG’s first request to delay these important talks but supported the postponement in the hope that the parties could meet in person in April 2021.

Now, the JNG has again demanded that the negotiations be postponed, this time until September 2021 – over a year and a half since the initially scheduled meeting.

The ITF understands that travel restrictions make it almost impossible for the parties to meet in person but believe the meeting could have gone ahead digitally, in the same way that tens of thousands of meetings are held daily around the globe.

It was with strong reservations that the ITF accepted the postponement of negotiations. ITF representatives made it clear that if the parties cannot meet in person, then the negotiations must go ahead virtually – and this must be no later than September 2021.

Chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Section, Dave Heindel said: “Our disappointment is mainly because unions and employers have been working closely on common issues throughout this pandemic. From the crew change crisis, to travel restrictions, and now vaccines – we have reached across the aisle to be united in advocating for practical solutions from governments and the industry. At the global level the ITF and JNG have met online almost every week in the last year to progress our shared priorities, including on the critical issue of crew change. We had hoped that this collaborative, action-orientated partnership had been extended to include one of the biggest decisions needed by our industry – the future welfare and incomes of our seafarers.”

Jacqueline Smith, ITF Maritime Coordinator said: “The ITF knows that employers are incredibly concerned about labour supply issues over the next decade following the blow dealt to the perceived attractiveness of the industry by the ongoing crew change crisis. The world has seen seafarers caught in the middle of government inaction and shameful behaviour by some in the supply chain towards those trapped working on vessels beyond their contracts. There are still charterers who have ‘no crew change’ clauses in their charters with major clients, for example.”

“Now is the time to tackle the issues that hold our industry back. Now is the time for us to be working together on how to attract and retain these skilled workers. Now is the time to get on with the job that we are tasked with doing by holding these negotiations. That would be the minimum indication to seafarers that this industry values their work, efforts, and sacrifice,” said Smith.