Seafarers are vital employees because they keep the global supply chains moving. Seafarers, including those on ferries, transport around 90 percent of the world’s goods, including necessary medical supplies, equipment, products and passengers.
During this pandemic, seafarers continue to work to ensure vital goods and passengers are transported, selflessly and in spite of the risks of contracting Covid-19. Despite the vital role that seafarers play, some companies are seeking to use the pandemic to undermine national standards in the industry, including replacing existing crews with seafarers on international terms and conditions that are substantially lower than national conditions.
The pandemic cannot be used as an excuse for shipowners, managers or crewing agencies to dismiss their obligation to protect local jobs, local conditions or health, safety and economic standards in an industry for any work – especially for key workers including seafarers. Regardless of the nationality of a seafarer, they deserve the national terms and conditions applicable in national trade.
In the United Kingdom, multiple companies, including Condor Ferries, Stena Line and P&O Ferries, have laid off seafarers, and forced seafarers to choose between taking unpaid leave or being furloughed. This is putting a serious economic strain on the seafarers and their livelihoods. Further, companies are using the pandemic to undermine long existing collective bargaining agreements – this is totally unacceptable.
In Canada, BC Ferries cast aside their collective agreement to unjustly lay-off workers, operating their routes with less crew. BC Ferries later partly reversed this decision after pressure from the union representing the seafarers, but the company continues to disregard the collective agreement.
“National Governments must play a necessary role in ensuring market downturns due to Covid-19 do not turn into unfair redundancies for seafarers or undercut current wages. Now more than ever, critical trade routes that deliver essential supplies should be crewed with national seafarers. To use this pandemic as an opportunity to further erode conditions on ferry routes is opportunism at its worst,” said James Given, president of Seafarers International Union of Canada and chair of the ITF Cabotage Taskforce.
Companies who receive government funds have an obligation to ensure jobs for national seafarers since those funds are taxpayers’ money. Further, national governments must place conditions on employers who receive public funds that they must protect the wages of furloughed seafarers, including the preservation of existing and pre-existing terms and conditions of employment.