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Health and safety

ITF sounds the siren of alarm for tugboat workers

31 March 2022

Dangerous working conditions and the undermining of pay rates for maritime workers in the tug and towage industry are under the spotlight in an ongoing campaign by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) and their affiliates, including Nautilus International.

The ramped-up campaign follows on from a petition launched in March on behalf of tug workers, aimed at Svitzer and its parent company AP Moller-Maersk. The petition expresses the ITF's strong objection to actions by Svitzer in Australia, the Netherlands and the UK, where the company is seeking to undermine pay, conditions and collective bargaining. In the Netherlands, Svitzer Euromed is undermining an existing Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The aim of the Sound the Siren campaign is to ensure that regulators, employers, and the public recognise the demands of the towage industry.

In a letter outlining the campaign to its maritime affiliate unions, including the ITF FOC-POC Inspectorate and members of the ITF Tugs Network, the ITF seafarers and inland navigation coordinator Fabrizio Barcellona said: 'We see the same problems worldwide: conditions are only getting worse for tug workers. Mariners in the tug and towage industry are often being asked to work longer hours with poorer conditions. We demand that companies take responsibility for the safety and security of tugboat workers and that shipping alliances are held accountable for driving down tug and towage rates to unsafe and unsustainable levels.'

The ITF campaign video (subtitled in six languages) highlights the story of tugboat captain Troy Pearson, and another worker Charley Cragg, who were killed while servicing a Rio Tinto power station in Canada.

In a position paper for the campaign [Stopping the Race to the Bottom] ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton said: 'Troy Pearson and Charley Cragg died while towing a barge for Rio Tinto in rough, icy waters. They were pressured to work despite unsafe weather for the size of tug they were operating. Their tragic story is only one of many.'

Tug and towage workers are a critical link in global supply chains, providing an essential service within ports, canals and coastal areas, said Mr Cotton. They assist larger vessels in manoeuvring in confined waters and to berth safely. Without tugs, pilot and towage vessels, ships cannot dock safely or navigate through key waterways.

'During the Covid-19 pandemic, tug and towage workers have seen their conditions of employment rapidly deteriorate. They should have been recognised for keeping the world's supply chains moving.'

Seafarers are urged to sign and share ITF's Svitzer petition calling on Svitzer and AP Moller-Maersk CEOs to act on Svitzer's continual undermining of Australian, Dutch and UK tug workers' rights, pay and conditions.