Since 2003 trade union federation the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) and employers’ organisation IMEC (International Maritime Employers’ Council) have worked together in a partnership to resolve problems, set standards, and improve conditions for those working at sea. Together, they are two of the pillars of the International Bargaining Forum, a unique body designed to ensure that shipping is profitable, safe and fair.
No one will pretend that the process, which involves negotiating wages across huge swathes of the world’s fleets, is always easy, but the will has always been there to make it work. While it’s the pay talks that tend to attract the headlines, along the way the partnership has addressed piracy and helped lay the foundations for new generations of seafarers through its training and cadet programmes.
About the IBF
The main vehicle for this partnership has been the IBF – the International Bargaining Forum, which brings together the ITF and the international maritime employers that make up the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG). In 1999, the ITF and IMEC first began to negotiate. Soon afterwards, another group of ship owners, the International Mariners Management Association of Japan (IMMAJ), also entered into dialogue. The JNG was formally established in 2003 and has since expanded to include the Korean Shipowners’ Association (KSA) and the Taiwanese company Evergreen.
When the ITF gets together to negotiate with the JNG, the resulting group is called the International Bargaining Forum (IBF). The IBF has objectives and rules of procedure. IBF negotiations are separate from the discussions about the ITF benchmark and other ITF agreements.
How does the IBF operate?
Negotiations take place every two years for the IBF framework agreement. Once the framework agreement has been negotiated, ITF-affiliated unions begin local negotiations with companies in their country. These local negotiations result in national and sometimes company level IBF agreements. While the entitlements may vary slightly, all IBF agreements must be within the IBF framework agreed for the period.
IBF agreements are only available to shipping companies that are members of the JNG and can only be signed by ITF-affiliated unions.
9500 vessels and 170,000 seafarers are currently covered by IBF agreements.
The IBF has a disputes procedure to deal with any problems, for example regarding compliance with or interpretation of the agreements.
The IBF framework agreement incorporates three main elements: social, professional and financial.
- Social elements deal with seafarers’ quality of life, including leave, access to telephone and email, duration of employment and medical cover for families.
- Professional elements include sickness and injury pay, compensation, savings or provident funds, provisions for service in war zones, re-engagement after pregnancy, protection for abandoned seafarers, training, security and safe manning scales.
- Financial elements include pay, employment stability, union development and access for ITF representatives to vessels.
These are some of the current features of the IBF agreement:
- Company must pay all fees and visa costs prior to employment.
- IBF vessels are subject to fewer routine inspections by ITF inspectors
- Protection for seafarers who respect dockworkers’ trade disputes, provided they are lawful.
- In the event of death, company must pay burial costs.
- Provisions for companies to enter the IBF disputes procedure
- Rest periods redefined in line with the ILO.
- Companies have access to apply for funds from the IBF Seafarers’ Support Fund and SEPF
- Riding gangs/temporary workers have more rights on board.
- ITF “Green Cards” are issued to companies utilising IBF agreements as initial proof that the company is committed to best employment practices.
IBF Seafarers’ Support (Welfare) Fund
The IBF Seafarers’ Support Fund (previously known as the Welfare Fund) was created exclusively to support the welfare of seafarers aboard vessels covered by IBF agreements.
In 2003 the JNG successfully negotiated for a proportion of its members’ contributions to the ITF Assistance, Welfare and Protection Fund to be paid into the IBF Welfare Fund for this purpose.
Applications for grants are made to support seafarer welfare aboard their vessels in the provision of resources such as:
- entertainment facilities
- DVD libraries
- Newslink services
- events (e.g. Christmas parties for seafarers and their families)
- the provision of sports and gym equipment.
IBF Seafarers’ Support Fund Applications
Since 2008, IBF agreements have included a funding element originally entitled DER (Developed Ecconomy Rating) Fund and then re-titled SEP (Seafarers’ Employment Promotion) Fund, during the IBF negotiations in 2009, to encompass an expanded purpose for the usage of the fund.
IMEC is the only international employers' organisation dedicated to maritime industrial relations. Established over fifty years ago, it operates from offices in London, UK, and Manila in the Philippines and represents over 220 shipping companies located all over the world.
The IBF is unique. It provides the first and only truly global collective bargaining agreement. The industrial relationship established by the ITF, IMEC and IMMAJ is unmatched anywhere at present. It is a legally binding agreement that sets out seafarers' wage and working conditions on board flag of convenience vessels in international trade. The IBF is a genuine landmark. It has helped all its parties work together to achieve a new deal for seafarers, for shipping and for the good of those involved.”
Steve Cotton, ITF general secretary