The International Chamber of Shipping and its global network of national member associations and the International Transport Workers’ Federation and its 215 seafarers’ unions are calling on seafarers across the world to sound their ships’ horns when in port at 12.00 local time on International Workers’ Day on 1 May 2020.
International Workers’ Day – or Workers’ Day, May Day or Labour Day – is recognised in many countries around the world to celebrate and acknowledge the contribution made by workers across the world.
The ICS and ITF are encouraging the gesture of solidarity to recognise over 1.6 million seafarers across the world, the unsung heroes of global trade, who are keeping countries supplied with food, fuel and important supplies such as vital medical equipment not only through the Covid-19 pandemic, but every day. Prior to engaging in blowing the horns ships should ensure that appropriate clearance is sought where required.
Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping said, “Our seafarers are the unsung heroes of global trade and we must not forget the contribution that they are making every day to keep our countries supplied with the goods that we need. The sounding of a ships’ horn in ports on the day that the world recognises the contribution of workers is an ideal way to remind us all of their sacrifice. They are all Heroes at Sea.”
Stephen Cotton, General Secretary, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said, “The ITF welcomes this initiative and call on seafarers to sound their ships’ horns in a global expression of solidarity, but importantly to also ensure that the spotlight remains on how critical seafarers are to ensure that essential goods continue to be transported around the world during this crisis. Governments should see this as a call to action to facilitate crew changes and the free movement of seafarers so that they can continue to keep supply chains moving in these unprecedented times.”
Shipping plays a fundamental part in global supply chains, but the issue of crew changes is posing major threat to the safe operation of maritime trade. Due to travel restrictions related to COVID-19, the industry has seen seafarers extending their time onboard ships after lengthy periods at sea. The current situation cannot last indefinitely for the safety and wellbeing of seafarers.
The ITF and ICS also repeated calls on governments to facilitate the free movement of seafarers, following on April 7, and a joint letter from ICS and International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Jointly, the ITF and ICS are calling on governments to:
- Designate a specific and limited number of airports for the safe movement and repatriation of crew.
- Redefine seafarers as key workers providing essential services during the Covid-19 pandemic, lifting national restrictions designed for passengers and non-essential personnel.
- To deliver their commitment to keep supply chains open by taking urgent measures on the issue.
ICS and ITF have also produced letters of authorisation to help seafarers and authorities recognise the key worker status of transport workers operating with legitimate authority. Shipping companies can the use the facilitation letter template, copy the text on company headed paper, fill in the seafarer’s individual details and share the filled in certificate with each of their affected seafarers, provided they have undergone the required medical screening. The letter states “This facilitation letter certifies that this seafarer should be allowed free passage to travel between their home and their vessel and has participated in a medical screening.” The letter can be downloaded here.
In a special show about how the Covid-19 response is affecting working people in public transport, ITF urban transport director Alana Dave has spoken to Dan Mihadi.
Dan Mihadi is the general secretary of the Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (TAWU), Kenya, and he explains how daily life has changed in Nairobi and the challenges face by informal and formal public transport workers in his union.
But he has hope for the future: “We are demanding that this crisis leads to public transport coming into public hands, providing decent jobs, and training. This is an opportunity to make things better for working people,” he said.
The ITF has launched a map showing the effect of Covid-19 restrictions on countries and ports around the globe.
To put the recent deaths in perspective, there have been a total of 145 in the past 20 years, and alarmingly 28 in the past 16 months.
The massive rise in fatalities says everything about the callousness of those running the shipping industry today. Companies that choose to save a dollar rather than train and equip workers to labour safely in confined spaces or invest in an onboard safety culture in which workers are free to take the time they need to vent cargo holds, ensure sufficient good air or question a risk they are facing.
We know that maritime workers are generally aware of the risks associated with entry into confined spaces, but they may not be aware of the details and extent of the varied dangers posed by forest products, coal, iron ore, grains, gases and other cargo.
It is not enough for a worker to rely on opening the hatches for 30 minutes and hoping for the best, or to do the best they can to protect themselves on their own. It is not enough for workers to take all available precautions but sometimes still be caught without sufficient protection by pockets of gases and lack of oxygen. And it is absolutely not enough that workers are left to cope with an inhumane industry by doing what humans have always done for one other: risk their own lives to save their fallen colleagues.
Last November, two dockers died while unloading logs from the hold of a bulker in Montevideo, likely after exposure to an unexpected fumigant they were not told about. A crew member saw them in distress and entered the hold wearing a face mask, determined to rescue them. During his efforts, his mask was reportedly removed, and he passed out, eventually landing in hospital in an induced coma. A third docker required medical help before the tragic incident was over.
Shipowners have a duty of care for their crew and dockers employed to carry out their cargo operations. Education and procedures are not optional. The negligence of shipowners who disregard standard procedures and cost workers their lives must be met with a punishment proportionate to the lives lost.
The International Maritime Solid Bulk (IMSB) Cargoes Code governs the carriage of bulk cargo worldwide. The IMSB code:
• Identifies and groups cargoes based on hazard
• Provides guidelines for safe handling
• Sets procedures for testing
The ITF Dockers’ and ITF Seafarers’ sections will be at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) working with shipowners to ensure that the regulations governing confined space stand up and are strong enough to protect all maritime workers.
The ITF Dockers’ Section deplores operators who routinely force workers to choose between risking their lives or their jobs. We continue the fight against them and demand accountability.
We join our sisters and brothers from Australia and Canada and echo their call for industrial manslaughter laws for employers deliberately undermine safety a risk workers’ lives.
Kill a worker, go to jail!
By Victor Figueroa, ITF strategic researcher
Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) are crucial issues for workers everywhere in the world. Over decades workers in different countries have won recognition for their right to work in safer environments. In some countries OSH regulations are a key tool in defending workers’ rights.
The 28 April is a day for workers everywhere to remember the struggles of the past, but also to project these struggles forward. For example, new technologies and work practices based on them are creating new challenges to worker health and safety, and new technologies also offer new opportunities to protect existing rights.
Amazon’s high-tech carrot and stick
This week I was in Spain discussing how new technology affects workers in Amazon facilities there and I was horrified at the level of control and the complete lack of consideration of worker well-being evident in the way tech is used in the warehouses. As a tech leader and a growing company, Amazon is a worrying example of the challenges that increasing numbers of workers will face in future, as monitoring and benchmarking technologies become more widespread.
Workers described to me how technology is being combined with company culture and intimidation to create a high-pressure environment rife with injuries and stress. ‘Power hours’ and ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’ systems are combined with positive exhortations (‘the kids won’t get their presents if we don’t smash this target!’) provide the carrots, while technology provides the stick to create a working environment where people are labouring at the limit of their endurance for hours and days at an end. The physical and mental toll is severe.
The Amazon workers spoke of operating under the supervision of algorithms that set the pace of work, with no-one knowing what the criteria being used were, or who had decided they were possible or reasonable. The actual work rate and the target work rate used to be displayed above some work stations, but managers found workers would slow down a bit if they were above the target rate, and so the indicator was removed. Workers work harder if they have no idea if they are meeting their targets. It helps to beat targets if managers and supervisors chivvy people along with the dreaded ‘estas flojo’ (you’re behind).
Over monitored, overworked
On top of this, chipped ID cards tell the system where workers are, and track them around the facility. Workers’ every movement is followed and team ‘leads’ or managers jump on the smallest infraction. Workers can lose two or three days’ pay for leaving a door ajar, for example. Workers also reported surveillance cameras in the changing rooms, but nobody knows who has access to the footage or what it is used for. It is another example of tech not being transparent to workers.
But technology does not just track the Amazon workers’ around the facility, it also conditions their work rate. Screens at workstations show where workers should put items, and scanners scan items as they are moved about. The algorithms decide what goes where when, and how long it should take you. The same movements are carried out again and again. One worker said, “it turns you into a robot and you are left numbed”. Workers in some workstations are literally in a cage for eight hours at a time with no social contact at all, in order to keep them away from the robots that bring them the shelves. “You could collapse in there and nobody would know” they said. One worker spent two months in the cages. “I wanted to die at the end of each shift”, they said.
The workers are carrying out hundreds, sometimes thousands of repetitions of the same movement in every shift, causing high rates of injury over time. The most common injuries are to wrists, hands and knees, although in some workstations it is back injuries. The company refuses to accept the injuries happen on the job, with managers accompanying workers reporting injuries while union reps are kept away. ‘You don’t want to work?’, some are asked by the managers. Workers say that they are utterly exhausted at the end of a shift, laughing bitterly at a question about whether they cycle to and from work: “I tell you, nobody wants to ride a bike after eight hours of that work.”
High-tech occupational health, safety and humanity
In this environment, technology is used to push people to the limits of their physical and emotional endurance. As such technology becomes more common it is vital that workers everywhere are defended by Occupational Safety and Health measures that prevent technology from applying arbitrary and inhumane work rates. Workers need to know what the rates are, and they should be able to change them. Workers need proper rest periods, particularly if they are working with screens and in isolation from others. And workers should have access to the data produced by monitoring and surveillance equipment so that they know what the tech is doing and what for.
Just as tech is used to monitor workers and force them to work harder, it could be used to monitor working conditions and protect workers from abuse. It all depends on who controls the tech and what it is used for.
Workers do not want digital overseers, we want tech that augments our capacities, that enables us to work better, not just harder. Amazon, are you listening?
The International Transport Workers’ Federation has encouraged everyone to join the international call to take control and remove dangerous substances from work.
Members from the dockers’, road transport workers, railway workers and seafarers’ sections were part of 28 April activities highlighting the ITF container safety campaign. The issue of toxic gases in containers tied in with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) theme for IWMD – removing exposure to hazardous substances at work. more