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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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Inland Navigation News

News | 23 Mar 2023 Press Release

Workers pay more in tax than Maersk - research

23 March 2023, London / Copenhagen It’s likely that A.P. Moller – Maersk’s employees around the world pay a far higher rate of tax than the shipping...

News | 11 Feb 2023

Two years on, heartache remains but lessons still to be learned from Ingenika tug tragedy

Two years on from the sinking of the Ingenika and tragic loss of two of the mariners onboard, cost pressures are still putting tug crews’ lives in danger, the...

News | 11 Dec 2022 Press Release

‘Diverse in our work, united for change’ - inland navigation unions hold successful conference in Amsterdam

Unions representing more than 180,000 tug, towage, river cruise, other inland waterways and ferry workers globally met in Amsterdam this week for the Inland...

News | 08 Dec 2022 Press Release

Bangladesh: global solidarity shines spotlight on 200,000 striking waterway workers

Over 200,000 river boat workers, the beating heart of Bangladesh’s critical inland waterways, have vowed to continue their campaign of industrial action until all...

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The ITF co-ordinates practical solidarity for transport unions around the world. By bringing unions together, we can ensure better working conditions, improve workers’ rights, and create a just and fair society for everyone.

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