Covid-19 has had a swift and brutal impact on the cruise industry and on seafarers working in the industry. The media has focused mainly on the passengers, while the plight of the seafarers has mostly gone unnoticed and underreported.
Governments have concentrated their efforts on finding solutions to disembark passengers and return them to their home. At the same time, it has been a struggle for the ITF and our affiliates to get the same governments to recognise the rights of seafarers and the need to disembark and repatriate them.
Seafarers are not second-class citizens and deserve the same treatment and respect as the cruise passengers.
The ITF and our maritime affiliates have been working intensively to mitigate the impact that Covid-19 is having on the world’s seafarers. Nationally and internationally, we are working with maritime employers and other national and international maritime organisations to ensure that seafarers are defined as key workers and receive the same protections, rights, wages and healthcare as other workers.
Most vessels engaged in international shipping are registered on a Flag of Convenience (FOC) register, which means that the ship flies the flag of a country other than the country of ownership. The seafarers on board are from all over the world, the majority from developing countries who work on a contract-to-contract basis. FoC flag states often have fewer labour or welfare regulations covering seafarers, and companies pay little or no tax.
The FoC system dominates the shipping industry and leaves seafarers vulnerable in situations like the current unprecedented coronavirus crisis since seafarers will be ineligible to receive national social security protections from the flag state, the country of ownership or the seafarer’s country of domicile. The only protection most international seafarers have is what unions have negotiated with companies on their behalf.
The ITF and its affiliates continue to advocate for the seafarers’ rights and are:
- Working with the cruise lines that are covered by and ITF agreement with the aim to ensure income protection for seafarers in the short-term;
- Ensuring that ITF agreements that include severance pay for seafarers being repatriated before their contracts expire are honoured;
- Ensuring that seafarers who have offered to voluntarily to remain onboard, work reduced hours;
- Demanding increased connectivity for seafarers that remain onboard;
- Working with cruise lines and other industry stakeholders to ensure safe repatriation of seafarers;
- Ensuring proper medical attention for ill seafarers and assisting seafarers in emergency situations;
- Ensuring that seafarers who are stranded in transit are provided accommodation and food. Currently over 1,000 seafarers are being provided accommodation in hotels operators by labour providing ITF affiliates, while other affiliates are working with companies to find accommodation for stranded seafarers;
- Negotiating with companies to ensure priority right to return to work once the crisis has ended.
On average seafarers covered by an ITF agreement have better wages and working conditions than those not covered. There are positions on board cruise ships, and also a few cruise lines, that are not covered by an ITF agreement which means that the seafarers are ineligible for the benefits of being covered by a CBA and the assistance that this provides. As a result of the current crisis, many seafarers who are not covered by an ITF agreement are being repatriated without any severance pay, with a number stranded in transit on their way home.
The ITF and its affiliates encourage seafarers to contact their relevant union if they have questions or need assistance related to their employment. Contact details for unions can be found on the ITF Seafarers website.
The ITF and our affiliates look forward to the day when this crisis is over, and seafarers are able to safely return to work in order to provide for themselves and their families.