No sustainable progress can be achieved with ‘a race to the bottom’ approach

28 Apr 2022

No sustainable progress can be achieved in any industry, whether maritime or otherwise, while countries and companies remain engaged in a race to the bottom regarding tax and labour policies, which circumvent collectively agreed working conditions, including wages.

At ETF, we firmly believe that sustainable and quality shipping in Europe can be built with the fair involvement of all actors in the industry under different EU initiatives, such as the “European Maritime Space.”

Why? Simple because promoting a race to the top will mend the social fabric and rebuild our coastal communities.

But we will not tolerate the tendentious attempts, the hidden blows or the mendacious use of language in the maritime industry! As usual, we will speak up and fight against such tendencies. Because our seafarers matter to us!

Shipping companies flagging out or relocating to certain countries to circumvent collectively agreed working conditions, including wages, do not help to achieve a “sustainable social fabric”.

In their recent report “The Perfect Storm,” the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) claims that within the “European Maritime Space” concept, increasing the number of jobs for European seafarers could have a detrimental effect on the global seafarer supply and demand dynamics.

This makes us wonder why reduced job opportunities for European seafarers would be beneficial? Why would a European Maritime Space for socially sustainable shipping be necessarily detrimental to global seafarer supply and demand dynamics?

The report also mentions achieving a “sustainable social fabric” through the global recruitment of seafarers. But isn’t it hiding behind some jargon and high-sounding phrases?

If we speak plainly and honestly, what is really going on is that shipping companies operating in European waters can recruit their seafarers globally. European seafarers are therefore competing directly with seafarers coming from countries with much lower employment terms and conditions. This creates downward pressure on terms and conditions and social protection for European crews, thus paving the way to unfair competition and social dumping in European waters. The recent example of P&O Ferries brutally sacking its too expensive seafarers is a point in case.

The surprise is even bigger, seeing this (the European Maritime Space being detrimental to the recruitment of seafarers) is one key claim presented by the Hamburg School of Business Administration, the report’s author; the same entity that is also involved in an EU-funded project initiated by the EU social partners: ETF and ECSA. In other words, a project funded by European taxpayers – SkillSea – and whose objective is precisely to develop the European maritime skills base. One might have thought the report would thus champion the rejuvenation of European maritime clusters to benefit the broader European economy.

But, as said before: no sustainable progress can be achieved when the focus is on a race to the bottom.