The Joint Negotiating Group (JNG), representing employers and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) representing seafarers unions and their members, have welcomed the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Circular Letter issued on May 5th to all IMO Member States, UN and specialized agencies, Inter-governmental and Non-governmental organizations in consultative status with IMO.
The circular letter provides a framework of protocols to ensure crew changes can be done safely and as soon as possible, whilst appreciating the significant challenges facing the global maritime industry brought about by Covid-19.
The letter also highlights the critical yet often unknown and overlooked plight of the seafarers and the important role they play in the world economy and to our society:
“Shipping is vital to the maintenance of global supply chains, but the current situation is unsustainable for the safety and wellbeing of ship crew and the safe operation of maritime trade.
Previously, the JNG (which comprises the International Maritime Employers Council, International Mariners Management Association of Japan, Korean Shipowners Association and Evergreen) and the ITF(representing 215 seafarers unions and their 1m members) agreed twice to extend the seafarers’ contracts in order to keep them safe from exposure to Covid-19, while also appreciating the enormity of the challenges this global pandemic was posing in terms of travel restrictions and flight availability.
However, the letter noted that “a significant number of seafarers have been required to stay on board beyond their employment contract period while others are waiting to be deployed so that they can join their ships and continue to earn a living”.
Earlier this month the JNG and ITF agreed that the current situation in regards to lack of crew change could no longer continue, since this could be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the seafarers, putting them at risk as well as the environment and the global supply chain.
Seafarers’ fatigue should not be underestimated and the social partners therefore agreed to not extend the contracts, but to support an implementation period of no longer than 30 days (up until June 15th) “so that governments have time to implement the framework of protocols as set out in the IMO Circular Letter”.
The parties have agreed:
- To support a transition period for governments and employers to implement the IMO issued framework of protocols, allowing up to 30 days starting from May 15th to ensure safe facilitation of crew changes takes place;
- That companies will consider, if financially viable and possible, to financially acknowledge every seafarer whose employment contract has expired, but who has continued to work;
- That companies will consider, if financially viable and possible, to provide seafarers waiting to be deployed an advance salary payment;
- That companies will, where possible, provide seafarers with extra bandwidth and internet access to be able to communicate with home; and
- That, when crew change commences, those seafarers who have been on-board the longest will be prioritised and repatriated first regardless of rank.
Finally the ITF and the JNG said that the wanted to alert Flag States, P&I Clubs, Operators and Charterers that, in the event of the Framework of Protocols for Crew Change not taking effect by mid-June 2020, the consequence of stress-related sickness affecting seafarers and their inability to consistently access medical support ashore may negatively impact on the commercial viability of the ship operations.