UN agencies urged to recognise seafarers as key workers during Covid-19 pandemic
19 March 2020
International maritime unions and employers have joined together to press the United Nations to keep world trade moving during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The call to action came on 19 March 2020, in a week where Nautilus members and other seafarers were increasingly reporting barriers to their work, such as being prevented from going ashore in port and having difficulty travelling to and from their vessels.
in a joint open letter, the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) urges four UN bodies to use their influence on national governments so that seafarers can be recognised as key workers and treated accordingly during the outbreak.
'Every month,' the letter points out, 'around 100,000 seafarers need to be changed over from the ships which they operate in order to comply with relevant international maritime regulations, governing safe working hours and crew welfare, so that they can continue to transport global trade safely.
'We therefore wish to emphasise the vital need for the world’s professional merchant seafarers to be granted appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions, when joining or leaving their ships, in order to keep the world’s maritime supply chains functioning.'
Nautilus International – a member of the ITF – has given strong backing to the letter, which chimes with similar efforts the Union is making with governments in the UK and Netherlands.
The full text of the ITF/ICS open letter is given below. It was signed by Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the ITF, and Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS, and addressed to the leaders of the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Maritime Organization (ILO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and World Health Organization WHO)
As the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold it is vital that all governments keep maritime trade moving by continuing to allow commercial ships access to ports worldwide and by facilitating the movement and rapid changeover of ships’ crews.
We are writing on behalf of the International Chamber Shipping (ICS), which represents the world’s national shipowners’ associations and over 80% of the world’s merchant shipping tonnage, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which speaks on behalf of approximately two million seafarers who operate the world’s internationally-trading commercial ships.
As the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold, it is important for the world’s governments to fully understand that around 90% of global trade is transported by commercial shipping, which moves the world’s food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components – including vital medical supplies and many products sold in supermarkets, items that are necessary (due to complex supply chains) for the preservation of many jobs in manufacturing – without which modern society simply cannot function.
In this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and maritime trade and transport moving.
In particular, this means keeping the world’s ports open for calls by visiting commercial ships, and facilitating crew changes and the movement of ships’ crews with as few obstacles as possible.
Every month, around 100,000 seafarers need to be changed over from the ships which they operate in order to comply with relevant international maritime regulations, governing safe working hours and crew welfare, so that they can continue to transport global trade safely.
We therefore wish to emphasise the vital need for the world’s professional merchant seafarers to be granted appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions, when joining or leaving their ships, in order to keep the world’s maritime supply chains functioning.
In view of their vital role during the global pandemic, we suggest that professional seafarers, regardless of nationality, should be treated as any other international 'key workers', such as airline crew and medical personnel. As such, they should be afforded special consideration and, notwithstanding the need to comply with emergency health protocols, treated with pragmatism and understanding when seeking to travel to and from their ships.
We therefore call on your organisations to highlight the critical importance of this issue with the governments of your member states.
We request, as a matter of urgency, that this topic be added to the agenda of appropriate high level meetings, and that national authorities in your organisations’ member states should be encouraged to engage immediately with their national shipowners’ association and national seafarers’ union, in order to find rapid solutions to this serious problem which otherwise risks impeding global efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic.