Seafarers’ closing remarks

Closing remarks by the Seafarers Spokesperson

Madam convenor, it is with regret that for only the second time in the history of ILO seafarers minimum wage setting that we have failed to secure an increase. The last time was in 2009 following the financial crisis. Who can forget the Shipowners brandishing photographs of the anchorages in Singapore choc-a-bloc with idle ships. No such photographs this time. And no idle ships, only buoyant shipping markets.

Apparently, we should be ever so grateful that the Shipowners did not, as they have in the past, demand that the ILO minimum wage should decrease despite that being a patent nonsense and in contradiction with the non-regression provision provided for in the ILO Constitution. 

We were told that it would be far better and fairer to the worlds seafarers if we keep the ILO minimum safety net low so that it is gradually includes more of worlds seafarers despite that being contrary to the ILO Formula agreed at the 26th Session of the Joint Maritime Commission. 

That formula has been used at every round of discussions ever since. A formula that seeks to maintain the purchase power of the ILO Minimum wage to maintain that safety net. Despite that meeting and every meeting since considering additional increases to reflect “productivity” – or a real increase in that so called safety net.  

The ILO minimum wage for an able seafarer should be rising from 1 January 2022 by a minimum of $42, from the current rate of US$641 to US$683 – that is a daily rate of US$21.36 to a rate of $22.76 for a maximum of 8 hours per day – a $1.40 per day increase – less than the price of a skinny latte in any major capital around the world. 

Instead, we were offered a pay cut. And we are not in the business of agreeing pay cuts especially not after that last 12 months and the sacrifices that seafarers have made and continue to make to deliver 90% of everything, we need to sustain our lives.

In 2009 the Shipowners Group walked away clutching their photographs. In 2021 let the record show that the Shipowners, after 14 months of very fine words about the Key Workers of the Global Supply Chains offered too little and to late. I still have those words from last week’s Special Tripartite Committee ringing in my ears. I said at the opening of this meeting I hoped we would not have to choke on those words. Unfortunately, we do.

So, sadly it is the Seafarers Group who must declare that we are not willing to come to an agreement, to agree some nice words about how tough it has been for shipowners, how beastly governments have been to them, and agree a Resolution from this meeting. 

For only the second time in history we will have failed and both times this is down to the Shipowners. This time as every other time frankly they come with dire warnings of the uncertainty that the global economic picture presents. Never mind what evidence there is for that because they always have a sector here and there that is going through difficult times. This time it is the Cruise Sector – a sector which passes significant parts of its wage bill onto the passengers through gratuity payment systems. The only problem now is they have no passengers to pass the costs onto. 

We heard that running costs rose 6% last year. Insurance costs are up, ship financing costs could rise. Repatriation costs rose due to the crew change crisis (never mind that they did not have to do as many crew changes because for every seafarer stuck at sea another was stuck at home off pay or for many being laid off or having their pay and conditions cut). 

In fact, the only costs that cannot be allowed to rise it would seem (and bear in mind we are not talking principally about a real increase at all as the ILO Formula merely seeks to maintain the value of the minimum wage) is the costs of employing the key workers who kept the global supply chains moving throughout 14 months of a global pandemic and continue to do so to this very day. We will be sure to advise the Seafarers of the value the shipowners have placed on their sacrifice. 

This failure of social dialogue is going to have profound implications for the partnership between Shipowners and Seafarers. Failure to agree a minimum wage increase creates a vacuum – a vacuum that will have an impact on negotiations elsewhere – nationally and internationally. We will declare our own ILO Minimum Wage and we will rely on the ILO Office Report to justify that.

Madam convenor, may I recall that the MLC, 2006 provides in Guideline B2.2.4 (1) that the JMC ‘or another body authorised by the Governing Body of the ILO’ shall set the minimum wage payable to an able seafarer. Perhaps it is time that we reconsider this mechanism and the mandate to the JMC because there are other seafarer wage setting mechanisms that can fill the vacuum created by the failure to agree here. Not least the ITF Fair Practices Committee.

In the meantime, we remain willing and ready to reconvene talks in the future should the Shipowners see value in doing so.

We thank you Madam Convenor for overseeing this meeting, to the ILO Office for and the Statistics Branch for the excellent Reports that were provided to facilitate our discussions. I also thank the Shipowners Group for their efforts to seek agreement and the Seafarers Group for their support over the past two days.

Thank you, safe journey home and please stay safe.

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