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Without permanent employment for domiciled seafarers maritime skills will simply disappear

Why maritime cabotage matters

National maritime cabotage – the system of reserving a nation's domestic maritime commerce for its own citizens to ensure the retention of skilled workers and decent jobs for the future of the industry – has been a major tool for national governments who want to regulate what goes on in their domestic waters. It allows them to ensure that at least certain domestic trades are not conducted purely on the basis of lowest labour cost, and that minimum standards are protected.

Many of these safeguards for seafarers are now under threat, both from national governments and proposed international trade treaties. However many countries depend on the sea for their trade and require maritime skills and experience to regulate shipping and safeguard their own strategic interests as maritime nations. 

The benefits of nurturing maritime knowledge bring added economic value to a country. These can include significant extra revenue from trade in the wider maritime sector on shore, as well as the obvious benefits of providing jobs for a country’s seafarers.

The ITF has set up a national cabotage task force which will be responsible for running a campaign highlighting the dangers posed by international trade treaties which threaten to undermine these benefits. It will also consider the threats posed by the latest moves towards liberalisation in the shipping industry. 

The Task Force can advise affiliates on national campaigning to defend minimum standards and secure long term employment in their shipping industries. 

The ITF seafarers’ section has previously distributed a toolkit for the Retention of Maritime Skills. The toolkit is an aid for affiliates campaigning for the recruitment and retention of their own national seafarers.

If you missed out on these resources, and would like to receive them, please contact Steve Yandell in the ITF seafarers section: The toolkit is available in English, Spanish, Russian and French.

Canadian victory

Meanwhile it is essential that affiliates robustly defend their own maritime skills base. Recently the Seafarers International Union of Canada (SIU) revealed abuses of a permit licensing system that risked undermining the nation’s cabotage laws and shipping capability.

The investigative work of the union forced an admission from the Canadian government that at least 11 work permits have been illegally issued, although there may have been far more. The SIU of Canada uncovered the illegal granting of permits to the crews of hundreds of foreign flag ships working Canadian waters, despite the availability of Canadian seafarers to serve on them.

In a statement about the Federal Court victory, SIU of Canada president James Given said: “It is outrageous that temporary foreign workers are being granted work permits to crew these oil tankers, while qualified Canadian seafarers are unemployed. This is a big win for our members, who are trained and available to crew these oil tankers. The SIU of Canada will keep fighting until these flag of convenience vessels shipping in Canadian waters are crewed by Canadian seafarers.”