Nautilus has joined with the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) to express grave concerns about a threat to hard-won seafarers' rights.
Six European shortsea and feeder ship operators are attempting to use EU competition law to overturn the 'Dockers' Clause', which is part of a collective bargaining agreement between the ITF and the maritime employers' Joint Negotiating Group (JNG) that covers approximately 15,000 seagoing vessels worldwide.
The clause, which came into force this year, is officially known as the Non-Seafarers' Work Clause (NSWC). It requires operators to use specially-trained dock workers rather than seafarers for container lashing and other cargo-handling work.
As well as reducing operational dangers to crew members, the clause is designed to tackle the problem of fatigue at sea by helping seafarers stick to appropriate work and rest hours.
However, the six operators claim the NSWC infringes EU cartel prohibition and restricts freedoms to provide services.
In an official complaint to the European Commission, they also say they do not accept that the JNG acted on their behalf in agreeing to a change in long-established working practices – arguing that their seafarers are trained in cargo-handling and are safe to do this work.
Additionally, they object to the ITF being the body to decide whether an exemption can be made for seafarers to carry out lashing when suitable dock workers are not available.
In exerting its authority to give or withhold permission on who undertakes lashing, the ITF is seeking to restrict competition, the operators claim.
On hearing about the complaint this month, the ITF expressed disappointment that the operators went to the European Commission without first approaching the parties who had formulated the clause.
The Federation said: 'This clause was negotiated in good faith, and the ITF has an expectation that those who employ seafarers will adhere to this clause in the same way in which they are expected to adhere to the rest of the agreement. The NSWC does not violate EU competition law.'
The ITF and its affiliates FNV Havens, Nautilus International and ver.di have recently filed legal proceedings to enforce the clause, notes the Federation. 'The complaint appears to be a tactical reaction to these legal proceedings and seeks to avoid compliance with the NSWC.'