Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many seafarers have expressed concerns about the consequences of raising their voices about their personal fatigue and the impact of the safety of the crew, ship and cargo – for fear of losing future job opportunities, commonly known as blacklisting.
However, the General Secretary of International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), Stephen Cotton has described this as forced labour and condemned it in strong terms in his speech at the UN High-Level Side Event on Covid-19 and Maritime Crew Changes, 24 September 2020.
According to ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton, “It is unacceptable in 2020! This unacceptable situation is bordering on forced labour. Seafarers and all responsible companies engaged in global supply chains have a right to demand urgent government intervention to end this crisis.
‘’We commend firms like Unilever for their leadership and responsibility for the health and wellbeing of seafarers and for their commitment to see this crisis resolved.’’
Cotton noted that ITF has supported high-level events where governments have praised seafarers for their critical role during the pandemic.
‘’We have had great statements, but statements alone do not get seafarers on and off ships. We need governments to recognise seafarers as key workers providing essential services. We need governments to deliver pragmatic solutions for this deadlock, which can only happen through active collaboration between government departments,’’ said ITF boss, calling on states to take control.
‘’I want to be clear that we are calling for action on crew change, but we need to make sure that shipping and global supply chains that depend on it do not make Covid-19 a justification for short cuts that risk lives and the environment.
‘’Yes, it is a very difficult environment and we again commend our partners for their actions. Together with our colleagues at the UN Secretary-General offices and the UN Global Compact, we must stay focused and continue to work together to deliver solutions that show the world’s seafarers that we hear their pleas and quickly solve these unacceptable problems.
‘’The global economy needs shipping. Shipping needs seafarers! Seafarers are tired and frustrated. They simply want to go home. Finally, we say ‘enough is enough’. This extraordinary situation needs extraordinary solutions! We want governments to act,’’ said he.