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Inland Navigation

Working for better lives on waterways.

ITF represents crew members and port workers on inland waterways throughout the world, in both trade and passenger tourism. We campaign for better working conditions on canals and rivers, as well as on shore, at wharfs and quays.

From timber to tourists, coffee to commuters, our crews carry cargo and passengers in a growing and challenging industry.

ITF Global Tugboat Network Campaign

Despite 90% of all goods being transported by sea, the critical role of tug and towage workers remains almost invisible to the public. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) values goods carried by maritime shipping, including containers, bulkers, and tankers, at $14 trillion per year.

The new classes of enormous container vessels with their tens of thousands of ‘boxes’ cannot berth to load or unload cargo without efficient, reliable tug services. Nor can tankers or bulk carriers safely enter and exit ports to play their part in world trade, denying our supply chains the fuel, food and raw materials that are key to driving the world’s health and economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tug workers conduct salvage operations and guide vessels through major waterways such as the Panama and Suez Canals, North America’s Great Lakes and the mighty river systems of Brazil, Argentina and Russia.

Simply put: without tugs, nothing moves.

Around 100,000 tugboat workers on thousands of tugs are unsung heroes – but increasingly their lives are under threat.

As a global federation of towage and tugboat workers’ unions, the ITF has, in the last five years, heard from dozens of our national-level affiliates with growing concerns about these key workers. Unsustainable working hours, lack of rest, unsafe crewing, fundamental rights being undermined.

The worsening working lives of tug and towage workers reflect the rising pressure in this industry. Read more in our position paper here.

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