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IndustriALL Global Union Shipbuilding-Shipbreaking Action Group Meeting

Shipbuilding-Shipbreaking workers focus on life-cycle of ship and sustainable jobs

The IndustriALL Global Union Shipbuilding Action Group (AG) Meeting took place on 19-20 November in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosted by CNM-CUT. 26 participants from Brazil, Chile, Denmark, France, India, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands, and Norway actively discussed on the agenda as follows;

  • Anticipating future trends in Shipbuilding and shipbreaking Industries
  • OHS, organizing, and fighting against precarious work
  • Promoting sustainable industry and workplace
  • Cooperating towards fair and leveler playing field in the life cycle of ship
  • Developing future activities as IndustriALL Global Union

The world shipbuilding industry is facing a challenging period as the 2008 financial crisis triggered the current downturn of the global shipbuilding industry. The total amount of work on the order books of the big shipbuilding countries/region (China, Korea, Japan and Europe) shows that they now have only around two years of workload left, if they maintain the current level of shipyard capacities and employment. At the same time, the shipbuilding workplaces have been rapidly moving from the big shipbuilding countries to emerging economies namely, Brazil, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Brazil now has 200,000 shipbuilding workers (40,000 directly-employed and 160,000 indirectly). This has increased by more than 260% from 2002 as a result of the industry revitalizing policy taken by the Lula/Dilma government. The union faces challenges such as freedom to organize union workplace committees and extending CBAs to outsourced workers. Bro. Edson Carlos da Silva, CNM-CUT mentioned

In Brazil, there is a tripartite discussion system in the shipbuilding industry between the union, the employer association and the government. We would like to utilize it to ensure union rights and sustainable jobs including advanced technologies and skilled training for the workers.

The AG participants shared common understandings that both shipbuilding and shipbreaking industries remain a precarious and hazardous occupation in many regions. In Korea, a movement of shipbuilding workers fought to win treatment and prevention of muscular-skeletal disorders (MSD) as part of the fight to work free of injury and illness. During this current economic crisis, Korean shipbuilding workers resisted when companies trying to push all the pain on workers as seen in last year’s successful Hanjin struggle in which all the workers were reinstated. Bro. HONG, Ji-Wook, KMWU called on IndustriALL to organize broader participation in the AG to reflect the shipbuilding and shipbreaking industry workforce and asked for future meetings to include common actions and solidarity platform to deal with urgent issues such as the global growth of precarious work in shipbuilding/shipbreaking and defending the workers in the crisis. 

The South Asia region, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan account for nearly 70% of the world’s shipbreaking in gross tonnage and it is estimated that over 120,000 shipbreaking workers are exposed by hazardous materials without any proper knowledge of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and workers’ basic rights. Bro. V.V. Rane, SMEFI who has been playing the important role to organize more than 10,000 shipbreaking workers in India in last 9 years under the IMF-FNV organizing project explained the real lives of Indian shipbreaking workers and expressed the importance of solidarity action taken by shipbuilding workers. The new documentary on shipbreaking workers “The Wire Nest” produced by SMEFI, ISCOS and IndustriALL was also shown at the AG and the booklet “Research on Spending Pattern of Ship Breaking Workers” was handed out to each participant. FNV Bondgenoten who has been supporting the Indian shipbreaking workers insisted that knowledge of shipbuilding workers 30 years ago could prevent the shipbreaking workers from serious accidents.

The shipbuilding workers can tell where the dangers are because they actually built those ships in the past.

Co-industri, Denmark raised a question that scrap recycling is not only interesting in relation to shipbreaking industries in South Asia. There are millions of recycling workers around the world in various sectors. 

The shipbuilding-shipbreaking sector has been succeeded to organize shipbreaking workers, but we need to think about other sectors like automobile, aerospace and electronics as well. 

The AG agreed to continue developing strategic linkage between shipbuilding and shipbreaking workers as one same sector, and at the same time, the AG confirmed that all IndustriALL’s manufacturing sectors should start considering on how to reach out to the unorganized recycling workers respectively. 

Unions from France, Japan and Norway pointed out the need for sustainable development in order to protect employment of the shipbuilding workers. There are significant opportunities for existing shipyards to shift their business to offshore vessels and structures and environmentally sound ships as alternative sources of energy in the oceans have been explored. Bro. Yakusue, JBU mentioned

In Japan, there will be almost no shipbuilding in 2014 if the order book continues to shrink like this. We are now seriously trying to shift to high-value added marine products in order to utilize our existing shipyards and protect 53,000 shipbuilding workers’ jobs.

As an outcome of the discussion, the AG concluded the following as the priority and activities for 2013

  • Continue to follow up on the Conclusions of the IMF-EMF Global Conference on Safe, Sustainable and Green Jobs in Shipbuilding-Shipbreaking  in 2011
  • Seek collaborated activities with Mechanical Engineering, Chemical, Oil and Gas sectors
  • Reach out to unorganized workers and promote OHS in both shipbuilding and shipbreaking
  • Demand that governments ratify the IMO’s Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships as soon as possible
  • Recommend that other industrial sectors start to discuss how to reach out to related recycling industries and workers
  • Conduct Joint Survey/Research  with IndustriALL European Trade Union to map out shipbuilding-shipbreaking unions and identity union activities and current issues including precarious and subcontracted work
  • Expand participation of unions representing workers with major contribution to global shipbuilding production in future meetings
  • Develop solidarity platform to fight against the growth of precarious work in the sector and to defend shipbuilding-shipbreaking workers rights
  • Develop cooperation/collaboration with international organizations such as IndustriALL European Trade Union, ITF, OECD WP6, ILO, IMO, EU Commission and NGOs
  • Seek possibility to negotiate GFAs/creating new network in shipbuilding MNCs

Since the chairperson of this sector was not approved at the ex-IMF Central Committee in December 2011, the AG has decided to leave the position as vacant until 2014. The process of election/selection of the chairperson will be discussed and decided at the AG in 2013, and the election will be conducted at a Conference in 2014. The next AG will be held in Denmark.

On 21 November, the AG visited two shipyards, Estaleiro Mauá and STX OSV located in Niterói at Rio de Janeiro state, an area well known for its shipbuilding tradition and close proximity to Brazil’s main oil basins. The participants have learned that the offshore oil & gas industry stimulates the shipyard’s operations and employment which is specialized in production for the oil & gas industry such as offshore platforms, drilling and pipe laying vessels.