A recent incident involving the vessel ZEUS I (IMO 9467885), as revealed by the Ukrainian Maritime Trade Unions Federation (UMTUF), is proof that seafarers employed on vessels flying a flag of convenience, and being under International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) union’s protection, are earning substandard wages. ZEUS I, owned by the Navarone shipping company, flies the Panamanian flag, and is covered by the Cypriot “national” collective bargaining agreement. The Cypriot trade union is also a member of the ITF.
The key principles uniting all ITF-affiliated trade unions are equal rights, and the terms and conditions of collective bargaining agreements regarding flags of convenience. A multipurpose collective bargaining agreement was developed, which contains standard terms and conditions and a standard wages scale to fight against so called “unscrupulous” shipowners, and which are to be signed by all ITF-affiliated trade unions. It is expected shows that if any shipowner, whose vessel flies a flag of convenience, pays less to its seafarers than specified in the ITF scale ($1,800 for an able seaman (AB)), they will find their vessel under pressure until the crew is paid the difference.
Affiliated trade unions are strictly forbidden to enter into collective bargaining agreements other than the standard one. Moreover, before any agreement is signed, the ITF must grant its approval. If it comes to light that any affiliated trade union has entered into a substandard agreement, sanctions will follow, potentially to the extent of expulsion from the ITF. At least, that was the practice five years ago: the rules were the same for everyone. Every shipowner in the world knew that no affiliated trade union would enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a wages scale less than that of the ITF. And seafarers knew if the vessel was ITF-covered, their wages would not be less than the standard scale.
However, recent practices are proof of double standards. Some affiliated trade unions can enter into other collective agreements, while others cannot. The UMTUF revealed these facts when the Navarone shipping company provided documents concerning ZEUS I: the trade union certificate, special agreement, and wages scale. According to these documents, the ITF-affiliated trade union signed an agreement with a shipowner under a flag of convenience specifying wages at a substandard level ($1,078 for an AB).
This raises the question as to why one shipowner operating, e.g. in the Baltic region is forbidden by the ITF to scale down wages (less than 1800 USD for AB), while another shipowner is operating a lower pay scale, approved by the ITF, and is untouchable? The reply which we have received from Navarone says uniquely: “Our vessels very often are inspected by the representatives in various ports (Scandinavian, Australia etc) without facing any problem ” It looks especially outrageous amid continuing negotiations between the ITF and the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) to pressurize shipowners into raising salaries by 3% in 2017. The ITF is doing its best to show that it “fights” and “enforces” proper wages for seafarers (although 2017 is almost over).
So, on the one hand, the ITF has numerous activities under a “No place to hide” motto and, when it finds vessels where wages are lower than the ITF rate, it boycotts them until the shipowner pays wages according to the ITF scale. On the other hand, the ITF tolerates certain affiliated trade unions cutting down seafarers’ wages to below the rates of substandard shipowners. After all, the Panamanian flag, as well as Cyprus is on the list of the ITF’s flags of convenience.
Hypocrisy among ITF executives seems to be sky high. This became clear when, in the spring of this year, the Ukrainian platform of trade unions presented a National Collective Bargaining Agreement with wages according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) standards ($1,085 for AB). Back then, the ITF announced in a press release that it was an unacceptable step on the part of the Ukrainian platform of trade unions, and that such a scenario was an attack on the seafarers’ right to earn wages of $1,800 for an AB (which, according to the ITF, was very hard to achieve). At the same time, we understand that the affiliated trade union from Cyprus was allowed to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with wages of $1,078 for an AB.
Something is wrong with the top-level management of the ITF, and affiliated trade unions should take notice. Applying double standards to trade union members of the ITF is unacceptable. If this is not corrected, the ITF, an organization with a century-long history, will collapse.