ETF on long-awaited social study on maritime transport: we stand ready to contribute to further action!

2 Jul 2020


Today, the European Commission (DG Move) finally published the report of a study on social aspects of maritime transport in the EU. It highlights the complexity of a global industry and the need to create special protection for seafarers. While seafarers’ rights have been strengthened in the past years, the enforcement of those rights remains troublesome.

The report touches upon the trends and challenges the industry is facing, both new and old. Difficulties to attract women and young people, the impact of digitalisation and automation, social dumping and unfair competition, problems with control of and compliance with (international) labour standards, and weaknesses of the existing sectoral social dialogue at EU-level. At the same time, the researchers suggest a long list of short- and long-term possible solutions.

The findings and conclusions are particularly important in the light of all the problems seafarers are facing in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. Several issues ETF and its affiliates have been denouncing for decades are now exposed:

  • Inadequate social security cover: most seafarers are still inadequately protected by social security, and this is felt even more acutely in times of a crisis;
  • Near-criminalisation of ships’ crews: seafarers are considered and treated by some port States as undesirables rather than professional key workers with shore leave denial and non-access to medical treatment;
  • Responsibility for repatriation: occurrences of seafarer service periods extending well beyond 11 months are due mainly to the failure of flag States and port States in rendering if not facilitating immediate practical assistance as per their obligations.

The existing loopholes have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, exposing the well-known proliferation of flags of convenience. These have not adequately assumed jurisdiction over the social matters concerning their ships. The social study’s recommendations provide European and national policy-makers and social partners with a set of possible solutions to overcome these failures.

Successful implementation, however, depends on the willingness of all stakeholders to contribute to a socially sustainable future of shipping.

We, therefore, call on the European Commission to take a leading role in facilitating further exchange and cooperation between all stakeholders. Due to the complexity and technical nature of the issues at stake, more than one dedicated working group will need to be set up. Problems need to be tackled from different angles, and Europe needs to lead by example.

On the Day of the Seafarer,  EU Commissioner Valean extended an invitation to social partners, asking them to join her “for a discussion on lessons from the current crisis and solutions for the future”.  The timeliness of the publication of this report points to the right occasion to make real change: the study’s findings, together with the lessons learned from the Covid-19 crisis, provide us with all the necessary tools to develop a truly socially sustainable maritime transport strategy. The new EU transport policy to be published by the end of the year, should carefully integrate all these findings and introduce an inclusive roadmap for consultation.

ETF stands ready to provide ideas and work towards balanced solutions together with all stakeholders. But one thing is clear: no more business as usual!

ETF and its affiliates took an active role in consultations, workshops, and discussions with the researchers of this study. This is a quality report. It’s built on proper research methodology, a high number of consultations with different industry stakeholders, great attention for detail, innovative takes on long-standing issues, and a commitment to finding balanced solutions. Let’s make sure that the recommendations it presents are not disregarded.