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IndustriALL World Conference on Shipbuilding-shipbreaking

14 August, 2014IndustriALL Global Union Shipbuilding-shipbreaking unions adopted an Action Plan for 2014-2016 and agreed to launch the first trade union network in the sector. 

The IndustriALL Global Union World Conference on Shipbuilding-Shipbreaking took place in Nagasaki, Japan on 10-11 November 2014.  Hosted by the Federation of Basic Industry Workers’ Unions (JBU), 83 participants from 24 unions in 19 countries took part. They included unions from Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan ROC, UK and USA, Participants actively discussed the following agenda:

  • Global overviews in the shipbuilding and shipbreaking industries
  • Organizing and fighting against precarious work
  • Securing jobs and Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) for future shipbreaking industry
  • Promoting sustainable industrial policy
  • Creating a trade union network and strengthening solidarity
  • Future activities and action plan

The highlights of the conference were:

The world shipbuilding industry has recovered after the economic crisis in 2008 and global new orders for 2013 reached the second highest ever. However, the industry is still facing over capacity of shipyards and the various data indicates a serious downward trend in the future. The industry is now seeking new business avenues such as offshore, eco-friendly products and advanced technology to maintain capacity and promote a sustainable industry.

However, the shipbreaking industry will continue to grow in next 25 years and the improvement of rules and standards is a pressing need in South Asia (e.g. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan) where 70 per cent of world shipbreaking is located and characterized by indecent working conditions and poor environmental protection.

The number of precarious workers in the shipbuilding industry has been rising rapidly over the last decade. Unions shared concrete practices on how to reach out to precarious workers, especially to sub-contracting workers and foreign/migrant workers, in order to protect their basic rights within the same collective bargaining agreements as the organized regular workers.

Most workers at shipbreaking yards in South Asia are exposed to an enormous threat to their health and safety (such as the high risk of industrial accidents, toxic substances such as oils and asbestos, and PCBs) without proper training and without personal protective equipment.  Every year, hundreds of shipbreaking workers lose their lives in occupational accidents.  The unions committed to continue supporting the shipbreaking workers’ unions, as well as to reach out to the unorganized workers and promote OHS.

Participants adopted a resolution demanding that all the major shipbuilding, shipbreaking and shipping states expedite ratification of the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships. If enforced, the Convention would help to avoid any unnecessary risk to human health, safety and the environment.

Promoting sustainable industry policy in shipbuilding is a key strategy to maintain employment. The unions shared their views and practices on shifting to high value-added shipbuilding such as to offshore and eco-friendly by demanding sustainable industrial policies from governments and employers.

The conference also focused on trade union networks to increase the negotiating power of unions vis-à-vis multinational corporations (MNCs) at the global level.

Union organizers at BAE systems agreed to launch a trade union network, which will be the first in the sector. IndustriALL will continue to develop more networks (two to three by 2016) in the shipbuilding-shipbreaking sector at all levels, such as MNCs, commercial/naval sectors, regions and countries.

In addition, the conference also adopted the sector’s Action Plan for 2015-2016, based on IndustriALL’s Goals and Key Strategies until 2016.

The conference also adopted a resolution in solidarity with unfairly dismissed workers at Rolls-Royce Marine Korea, calling for the immediate reinstatement of the sacked workers and for the management to return to the negotiating table with the workers to achieve a fair and just outcom.

New co-chairs of the sector were elected by the unions in line with IndustriALL’s new policy of whereby each industrial sector will be jointly chaired by one woman and one man. The new co-chairs of the sector are Satoshi Kudoh from JBU/JCM, Japan and Eileen Yeo Chor Gek from SMEEU, Singapore. The unions also elected V.V. Rane from SMEFI, India as vice chair of the sector representing the shipbreaking unions.

The unions also confirmed that the next Action Group conference will take place near the shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh in Autumn 2015.

Concluding the conference, the newly elected sector co-chair, Satoshi Kudoh stated:

“Our priority is to protect workers’ lives and to promote sustainable employment in the sector.  There are indeed many challenges ahead of us, but let us move forward to achieve our action plan by putting our heads together and by strengthening solidarity actions.”

On 12 November, the participants of the conference visited Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works, one of the largest shipbuilding yards in Japan, and the branch union. The participants had an active discussion with the branch unions on industrial relations and the union’s activities at the yards.