A Student Perspective: The Role of the Trade Unions: ITF Seafarers Point of View

Nowadays, due to the globalized world economy there are tremendous numbers of shipping companies and port operators, which in order to be competitive and decrease their selling prices push their workers beyond their limits. Therefore, many trade unions have been created in recent years aiming at defending the seafarers all over the world. Their main objectives are to assure better working and living environment for all workers and to protect their human rights. Moreover, all these unions are trying to achieve good employment rates and higher payments for everyone no matter of their nationality.

Such a union is ITF, which is an international trade union federation of transport workers’ unions created in 1896 in London, UK. It represents millions of transport workers and seafarers in more than 150 million countries. Some of the basic purposes of the union is protecting of the crew members worldwide and working for peace and social justice. Furthermore, it is one of the global union federations cooperating with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) (Karavatchev 2014, p. 2).

The activities of the union can be summarized as following: representation, information, and practical solidarity. ITF promotes the seafarer interests in every country no matter of the ship’s flag they are sailing (Karavachev 2014, p.3). In my opinion, it is really hard to protect the workers everywhere in the world, because I am sure that one organization cannot solve every problem. It seems that ITF is trying to do its best by providing the mariners with good education and certificates and by training them according to the highest standards. However, we do all know that there are so many seafarers who do not have enough experience. Moreover, it is true that many seafarers have to pay a lot of money to get the necessary certificates because they do no have sufficient knowledge.

Despite these facts, such kinds of unions are extremely important for the seamen because the latter know that there is someone who is going to support them and their families without any discrimination. Furthermore, the ITF can handle the negotiations with the shipowner and any other parties if it is necessary and it does not tolerate any aggression in case the mariners are not treated as they should be; for instance, unpaid wages or lack of safe working conditions. In such cases the trade union assists and helps the mariners to deal with their problems.

Furthermore, the ITF is trying to deal with problems like maritime security and piracy. For example, one of the cases in which the trade union took action was in 2010, when the crew of the Al-Nisr Al-Saudi oil tanker was captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. And in addition of the stress that the crew and their families felt because of the pirates, the shipowner did not pay the seafarers salaries for a period of two months. What was the role of ITF? The ITF was trying to negotiate with the pirates and the shipowner so as to solve the seafarers’ problems and to end the piracy (ITF Seafarers, 2010). Based on such examples, what we can easily see is that a trade union, like the ITF, has to deal with very critical situations.

Every worker in the world needs to be treated well and his/her fundamental human rights to be respected. However, we all know that there are many cases in which this was not met by the employer. Therefore, I do strongly believe that the role of trade unions like the ITF is really important based on the fact that they can protect the seafarers and their families, when they are at sea or ashore. The main aims of the ITF union are to support the transport workers throughout the world, and to negotiate with any party in situation of conflict without any discrimination or aggression. Also, it is trying to provide them good living and working conditions.


• ITF Seafarers (2014), ITF Agreements [Online]. [Accessed on 4th March 2014] Available at: http://www.itfseafarers.org/itf_agreements.cfm
• ITF Seafarers (2010), Pirates demand US$20 million to free oil tanker [Online]. [Accessed on 2nd March 2014] Available at: http://www.itfseafarers.org/al-nisr-al-saudi.cfm
• Karavatchev, R. (2014), The Role of Trade Unions: ITF Seafarers Point of View, Case Studies in Maritime Policy, Topic 7

Romina Ivanova, MA International Maritime Policy

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