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Decent and sustainable work in the inland waterways sector

news Press Release 27 Nov 2023

Unions representing Inland Waterways workers supported by the ITF took part in a Sectoral Inland Waterways meeting 20-24 November at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, to promote decent employment in the inland waterways sector. This was the first meeting on Inland Waterways since 1992.

ITF affiliates represent crews on inland waterways vessels throughout the world, in trade and passenger tourism. We campaign for better working conditions on canals, rivers and lakes, and in ports and harbours.

The ILO meeting was an opportunity to advance the very inconsistent standards in the sector, where some waterways operate safety rules based on regional reach, whilst other regions lack effective regulations and have high numbers of informal workers.

The sector is of crucial importance for the supply chain, and it has the potential to play a major role in decarbonising the transport industry by taking significant amounts of freight off roads.

Throughout the meeting the ITF delegation, which included affiliates unions from around the globe, promoted all parts of the industry, raising matters that are important to improve the working and living conditions of inland waterways workers.

“Many workers on the world’s waterways are seeing a decline in their working conditions and a reduction in their pay and training,” said ITF officer Fabrizio Barcellona. “This is due to globalisation, market consolidation and increasing deregulation in the sector. The role of the ITF and its affiliated inland navigation unions has never been more crucial in fighting for sustainable jobs and workers’ rights in the sector and in the wider global supply chains.”

There is now a great opportunity for the industry to raise its status through investment in new technology and embark upon a ‘Just Transition’ with the use of more climate-friendly vessels and fuels. 

The meeting was the beginning of a process which will elevate the industry to a higher status, which increases its market share and promotes decent employment.

Key outcomes included:  

  • Recognising that the lack of national and transnational legal frameworks can lead to unfair competition
  • Transition to formal employment in the sector is a priority 
  • Recognised collective bargaining can lead to improved working conditions 
  • Decent working conditions are crucial to attract women and young people into the industry
  • Regulations for all workers are important in areas such as working and rest times, medical care, social protection, repatriation, wages, contracts, operational crewing levels, duration of service on board, minimum age, medical examination, recruitment, occupational safety and health, maternity protection and elimination of any form of violence and harassment 
  • Promote the creation, attraction and retention of decent jobs in the sector, through tripartite regional dialogue to establish measures that facilitate access to the industry, including safe and equal employment opportunities for youth and women
  • The promotion of universal access to comprehensive, sustainable and adequate social protection systems for workers in the sector, regardless of nationality
  • Enforcement, including through regular inspection of vessels and living and working conditions on board, is critical to improving working conditions
  • Skill development for inland waterway workers is an absolute priority for the sector given the challenges of new technology and the need to move towards greener vessels and fuels.

It was recommended that a clear road map be established in consultation with the constituents and regional authorities, ITF will continue to push for progress to be made on these key issues both regionally and at the ILO.

Media contacts: ITF:

About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions from 147 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice for nearly 20 million working women and men in the transport industry across the world.