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TUC calls for UK to take lead in urgent action to release up to 200,000 seafarers trapped onboard ships

10 June 2020

The TUC has warned the UK government of the threat posed to Britain's economic recovery from the mounting crisis onboard merchant vessels, where 200,000 seafarers remain stranded at sea by travel restrictions because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The union federation urged the UK government to lead the international effort to facilitate crew changes in the world's merchant fleet.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'Seafarers play an essential role in global trade networks, keeping our economies running and delivering essential goods.

'They should be recognised as key workers and given the pay and support they need. But instead thousands are stranded at sea and in ports. Without action, this crisis will undermine our critical supply chains and hurt the UK's economic recovery.

'The UK government should lead the international effort to facilitate crew changes and create 'safe corridors' that allow free movement for seafarers.'

Last month, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) published a 12-step protocol for safe crew changes, but implementation has been piecemeal from governments and the number of crew who have been forced to work beyond their contracts and regulatory limits continues to rise on a weekly basis.

The TUC joins with the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and affiliates Nautilus International and RMT by calling on the UK government to stop neglecting these key workers, and the welfare and lives of seafarers directly, but also the British public who will pay the price if global trade is halted.

The TUC move follows a joint statement last week from leaders of the world's highest maritime, aviation and labour authorities calling on governments to facilitate maritime crew changes and designate the millions of workers in critical transport industries through the present pandemic as 'key workers'.

Fang Liu (International Civil Aviation Organization), Kitack Lim (International Maritime Organization) and Guy Ryder (International Labour Organization) said that the maritime industry is too important to global supply chains to have any disruption caused by government restrictions preventing crew change and travel.

The TUC represents fifty affiliated unions in England and Wales with a total of about 5.6 million members.

Up to 2,000 British seafarers could be caught up in the crisis leaving them stranded on ships well past their contractual obligations.

The ITF and ILO alongside employers group the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) have issued a deadline of June 15 for all governments to enable crew changes at ports, pointing to the 'ticking timebomb' of fatigue from seafarers' excessive working conditions.


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