Seafarers Matter Conference calls on EU decision makers to promote Fair Shipping

2 Mar 2017

Brussels, 1 March 2017 – « Shipping is out of sight and therefore out of mind », a quote from the animated film Seafarers Matter set the scene yesterday at the Seafarers Matter Conference. “Too much emphasis has been put on administrative simplification, decarbonisation, and opening up of third country markets, but what is left for the seafarers?” said Philippe Alfonso, ETF Political Secretary for Maritime Transport. “This Conference, gathering EU decision makers, academics, employers’ and seafarers’ representatives at the heart of the European Shipping Week’s activities, is all about them.”

Employment for European seafarers is decreasing. Mark Dickinson, General Secretary of Nautilus International stated that “only 40% of employment on EU ships consists of EU citizens whilst Chinese pay rates are being used on EU ships in EU waters.” Steve Todd, RMT National Secretary added that “one third of the shipping jobs in the UK will be lost in the next 4 years.

The need to invest more in training for European seafarers as a way of promoting and safeguarding European employment in the industry was not contested. If it is really a magic bullet to improve competitiveness of European seafarers, remains to be seen. “The quality of maritime education in Europe is very high, and young people graduating in a nautical academy should be offered good career opportunities, which should include good working conditions and a good quality working environment.” said Santiago Ordás Jiménez, dean of the Barcelona Nautical Academy.

Denying the myth of the sector lacking in attractiveness for young people Marko Šuljić, student at the Rijeka Nautical Academy testified that “seafaring is a traditional job in Croatia and many young people aspire to be a captain or engineer on board a ship.” He added that “Croatia has an abundant supply of bartenders as many young cadets are waiting sometimes up to 3 years to find embarkation and finally give up a promising career at sea.Patrick Verhoeven, Secretary General of ECSA, agreed that “there is a problem of finding training berths for cadets and there should be more coordination between companies.” 

But why is employment decreasing if European education and training are high and there is no supply shortage of European seafarers? “The weakest link in the fair trade chain is the seafarers” commented Professor Syamantak Bhattacharya. The true problem is that European seafarers have to compete with non-organised and non-regulated labour with low wages and without working time limits.

All stakeholders agreed that European employment in the industry should be protected, but not everybody agreed on how this should be done. “If you have the answer to how the EU Commission could act on this issue then please let me know.Magda Kopczynska, Director for Maritime Transport at the EU Commission’s DG Mobility and Transport, challenged the audience.

A more proactive position of EU policy makers by for example closing the loopholes in state aid guidelines was a solution offered by various interventions. . “ETF does have the answers the European Commission is looking for. The latter has the authority to regulate embarkation of young European cadets by making better use of the State Aid Guidelines, and has the power to make fair transport in Europe work.” commented Eduardo Chagas, ETF General Secretary. “European institutions should aim for a level playing field on a European level”, agreed Agnes Jongerius MEP, “and promote a race to the top instead of a race to the bottom.”

“France calls on an EU initiative including all concerned stakeholders in order to create a harmonised EU social framework for all transport modes including shipping.” read a statement of the French Transport Minister Alain Vidalies. The EU should continue playing a leading role using the full potential of an integrated maritime policy based on free but fair trade and a socially sustainable blue economy benefitting growth in all sectors of the industry. “We need a common maritime space with a strong social component to the benefit of not only seafarers, but of the maritime cluster as a whole.” concluded Isabelle Thomas MEP.

For more information, please contact:

Philippe Alfonso, Political Secretary for Maritime Transport, European Transport Workers’ Federation, Tel: 0032(0)2 285 45 84,,, @ETFSeafarers, #SeafarersMatter