Transport workers are the sector’s “most valuable asset” reads the newly published Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, but proposed initiatives fall short in matching this statement. The ETF reiterates that to fulfil the goals of the Strategy and enable the transition to greener transport, it is essential to address social issues and foster worker engagement.
In light of Digital Transport Days taking place on 18 November, ETF Maritime team has published a paper on the future of waterborne transport. ETF’s vision of a fair and sustainable future of waterborne transport shows that there is an alternative to the current business practices in the sectors.
Shipping is the lifeblood of the global economy, carrying around 90% of everything we consume: the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the computers we rely on. The EU maritime transport sector employs around 230 000 people, and European shipping accounts for over 40 % of the world’s fleet. The EU has some of the world’s largest maritime clusters. However, all the ships that carry those goods and passengers depend on seafarers, a group of transport workers who face rather unique conditions.
Shipping is the most globalised of all industries, bringing a cost for the officers and ratings on merchant vessels. Seafarers are the first to suffer from unchecked and unfair competition in the shipping industry, a persistent hire-and-fire culture, and the ups and downs of the global business cycle. The global nature of shipping also makes it challenging to enforce social rights for seafarers, while Flags of Convenience let employers dodge taxes and avoid rules that defend decent working conditions.
Seafaring is a difficult life, which often brings long working hours, harsh living conditions and social isolation. But what makes European seafarers especially angry is that there are no restrictions on the nationality of maritime workers, such as we see for land-based jobs. This means that some shipowners avoid hiring European seafarers because they want to reduce labour costs. Indeed, it is possible to employ third-country nationals in European services and pay them at the level of workers in developing countries– a clear case of social dumping.
The result is a lack of jobs for European seafarers. Although 40% of the world fleet is in the hands of European shipowners, fewer than 40% of crew positions on these European vessels are filled by European seafarers! Roles for European seafarers on non-European vessels are rare and subject to lower wages and worse conditions.
Alongside this fundamental attack on European seafarers, there are many other threats to the number and quality of maritime jobs.
The size of the crew on merchant’s vessels is decreasing, and this trend is bound to continue with the emergence of new technologies and the increasing digitalisation of the sector.
It is becoming more challenging to guarantee decent shore leave – an opportunity for seafarers to relax and recharge or to seek help if their employer is poorly treating them. Increased security measures make it difficult for seafarers to leave the ship, and the more rapid cargo turnover means vessels spend less time in port.
Seafarers suffer a higher occurrence of occupational deaths, injuries and illnesses than land-based professions.
There is a growing trend to criminalise seafarers in case of maritime accidents, and seafarers are sometimes left stranded without legal support in the event of ship abandonment.
Despite these difficulties, shipping is still an advanced industry that provides remarkable career opportunities for skilled individuals willing to work in this environment. The ETF is doing its utmost to improve the working lives of European seafarers and guarantee that they get the recognition, respect and decent conditions they deserve.
The solutions to the maltreatment of seafarers lie in ensuring that the competitive climate is regulated and operators are encouraged to compete on quality and not on costs. ETF promotes job security for national seafarers and protects the maritime skills base and local knowledge clusters. We do this by advocating for high EU standards and a level playing field for all who want to trade in European waters. We will pursue every possible avenue to ensure the resilience of European shipping and maritime know-how and that quality and fair shipping are rewarded. That is how Europe can champion a race to the top on social, environmental and safety standards to benefit the more than 272000 seafarers we represent.
News September 15, 2023
The European waterborne transport sector should be considered a strategic and key asset.
It is just one of the conclusions the ETF underlines in the recently published final report of the EU-funded project “A fair and sustainable waterborne transport in Europe”. The report assesses the current state of water transport employment in Europe, links it to water transport governance and provides recommendations for reform.
Press Release July 24, 2023
ETF and ITF welcome the bilateral France – UK agreement over voluntary seafarer employment and welfare standards. Yet, they call together for the adoption of mandatory seafarer employment standards on European shipping routes, underpinned by sectoral collective bargaining rights.
News June 25, 2023
Seafarers have a unique role and active contribution to protecting the marine environment. Happy Seafarers’ Day with clean oceans for a sustainable future for all humankind!