World’s biggest pay talks set to benefit world’s lowest-paid seafarers

The world’s lowest paid seafarers could get a boost in the basic wages as a result of talks taking place in Geneva on Monday. Seafarers are the only employees covered by a global minimum wage, the biannual talks on which, could see a rise of nearly $50 a month on ships around the world.

Since 1970, the minimum pay received by ship’s crews has been determined by a minimum-wage agreement between ship owners and trades unions. Both sides meet every other year at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The current minimum wage is $614 a month for a basic 48-hour week. However, most seafarers work overtime and can end up working around 90-hours per week. Many of the world’s seafarers earning the global minimum wage sign on for 9-month voyages, although these can be extended by up to two months.

Ships crews are mainly drawn from labour supply countries from around the world, including the UK. The greatest numbers, and those most likely to be contracted on global minimum terms, come from China and the Philippines.

Mark Dickinson, General Secretary of trades union Nautilus International will lead the trades union negotiating team on behalf of the International Transport Workers’ Federation. He says:

“The talks are based around an assessment by the ILO Office of how seafarers spending power has changed since the last talks. The current assessment makes it clear that in more than 90% of the countries from which crew are drawn, the value of their wages have fallen – in several cases by more than 15%. The underlying economics of the shipping industry are currently strong, so we will be pushing for a significant rise.

“The last time the talks were convened, in 2016, shipowners successfully argued that so challenging was the economic backdrop

they faced, that no increase was possible. Across the board, their gloomy predictions proved wide of the mark, so there is an expectation among ships’ crews that a different approach will be applied in these talks”.

Dickinson will lead a team drawn from seafarers’ unions from around the world. He promises that they will be making a moral as well as an economic case.

“Over 90% of the world’s good are delivered by sea – including most of the things that we have round us all the time, televisions, cars and clothes among them. If the shipowners do not recognise the hard work that has made their businesses successful, then I fear that consumer concern could start hitting them where it hurts. No one is comfortable thinking that the goods in their shopping baskets have arrive on ships whose crews are being exploited.”

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