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Negotiations over a new global minimum wage for the world’s seafarers broke down this week, with union representatives indicating they would abandon collective bargaining.
For decades, the minimum wage for seafarers has been set at the International Labour Organisation’s Joint Maritime Commission (JMC), which was established in 1920 and composed of representatives of shipowners and seafarers.
The last minimum wage level was set in 2018 and talks to set a new level hit disagreement this week over a proposed increase.
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) said its members had put forward a three-year deal to increase the basic minimum wage for seafarers by 3%.
Seafarers would see the current global minimum wage of $641 a month rise to $645 next year, to $648 in 2023 and to $660 a month in 2024.
Natalie Shaw, ICS director of employment affairs, said: “Unfortunately, the seafarers’ representatives rejected a generous offer from the shipowners in these unprecedented times. We went further than we had anticipated, but the offer was still rejected.
“However, our door is always open,” she added.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) said the offer failed the follow the wage formula set by the ILO, the UN body that oversees labour rights, under which, it claimed, the minimum wage for 2022 should be $683 a month.
“For only the second time in the long history of these negotiations the shipowners and the seafarers have failed to agree a revised minimum wage for seafarers. And that’s wholly the fault of the shipowners, who have behaved with such an astounding lack of self-awareness and a lack of respect for the sacrifices of seafarers – especially these past 14 months,” said Mark Dickinson, seafarers group spokesperson at the ILO and vice-chair of the seafarers’ section of the ITF.
The ITF said seafarer unions would now prefer to tackle the shipping companies ‘head-on’, to set wages unilaterally “rather than risk decades of established ILO practices by agreeing to employers’ demands to ditch objective ILO minimum wage calculations”.
While both the ICS and ITF said they remained “open to further discussion”, should no agreement be reached the current $641 minimum monthly wage could remain for another two years.
“Failing to agree means the ITF now must unilaterally determine the ILO minimum wage rate, but unlike the shipowners, we will respect and keep faith with the ILO formula, which is fair and objective,” Mr Dickinson explained.
“The formula is just about retaining the purchasing power of seafarers in a standard currency so that their real wages don’t go backwards, as well as sharing a small portion of in the productivity gains of the industry that seafarers’ skills and hard work is generating.”
“Sadly, the result of the shipowners’ pay freeze is a pay cut in real terms – accelerating an industry labour shortage. It’s hard enough for these companies to recruit seafarers with the crew change issues. I would have thought now would be the time to be investing in your people and making this an industry more attractive to join – not less,” he said.
According to a recent ITF survey of seafarers completed last month, 25% of 2,400 surveyed said they were considering leaving the industry as a result of the crew change crisis that has hampered shipping since the onset of the pandemic.
“We’ve heard time and time again from shipowners and their representatives that they care about the seafarers; that seafarers are ‘critical’ to our industry and the global supply chain.
“But the moment it comes to recognise the contribution of seafarers and value them practically by delivering a modest real wage increase, the shipowners show their true colours,” Mr Dickinson said.