Move to unite seafarers’ unions
Inter union rivalry plays spoilsport
With at least 16 seafarers’ unions having entered the ship manning arena, the 33 Indian ship owners and over 250 odd manning agents representing foreign ship owners have been facing the heat from trade union activists thus being compelled to take on an over cautious stance in dealing with them, careful not to tread on anyone’s toes for fear of reprisals. Some manning companies restrict their activities to employing Indian marine officers and avoid engaging Indian marine ratings for fear of getting heckled and coerced by politically affiliated seamen’s unions that indulge in arm-twisting tactics besides making heavy monetary demands. They prefer to engage Filipinos ratings or those from Sri Lanka, etc.
For almost half a century there were only two seafarers’ unions in existence. These were the two major players: NUSI and FSUI. The former represented mostly marine ratings and has a strong presence in Western India. FSUI, who control a large section of marine officers and ratings in Kolkata and other parts of Eastern India have gradually spread its wings into Mumbai and Western port cities. Only these two unions are affiliated to the world trade organization, the International Transport Federation (ITF).
In the past few years the two major unions have taken each other to court on several issues but failed to make much headway. Many seafarers serving on Indian ships state that all seamen ratings including petty officers were suffering due to prolonged and inordinate delays in signing the present ‘Wage Agreements 2010-2012’, which in all probability should have been signed before 31 March 2010.
FSUI has now made an appeal to all seafarers, NUSI and ship owners who constitute members of the Indian National Shipowners’ Association (INSA) to join together and form a united front to fight for the cause of the seafarers. It stated, “The time has come for both unions to work together for the well being of our brothers in a united fashion for the sake of our seafarers and we should not fall prey into the hands of ship-owners who are trying in a combined way to create a so called moratorium.”
The communiqué states that some of the ratings even suffered reduction of payment when an interim relief was adjusted. Again ‘Wage Agreement 2006-2008’ and ‘2008-2010’ was signed in a block of four years. This time too seafarers lost in absolute terms and to add insult to injury, four seafarers were reduced from each vessel from pre-decided notional manning without ex gratia payment of any kind. The result of this was a compounding of seafarers’ sufferings and they became more frustrated as they had to share the additional burden of the four displaced fellow’s work without receiving any additional monetary gain. All ship-owners too have failed to pay as per their obligations.
To mention one such obligation is that the seamen have not yet received the Dangerous Cargo Special Allowance from many ship-owners. It is being pointed out that now again the ‘Wage Agreement 2010-2012’ is being put in cold storage due to this ‘tacit’ support as ship-owners want to make this also a four years block agreement.”