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29 September, 2020South Asia shipbreaking unions, IndustriALL and FNV Mondiaal representatives held virtual meetings on 24 and 25 September to evaluate union support for workers during Covid-19, and pledged to intensify the campaign to ratify the Hong Kong Convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships (HKC).
South Asia governments’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic deeply affected shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Most shipbreaking workers are precarious contract workers and migrants, and the lockdown measures led to hundreds and thousands losing their jobs and wages.
Unions distributed dry and cooked food, organized transport so migrant workers could return to their homes, distributed masks and provided training and awareness on Covid-19 safety.
In India, shipbreaking union ASSRGWA worked with employers and the government to coordinate relief efforts. Downstream, SEWA representatives worked to ensure that workers did not face hunger. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, unions and NGOs provided relief to shipbreaking workers.
Kan Matsuzaki, IndustriALL director for shipbreaking and shipbuilding said,
“Shipbreaking operations in South Asian countries are limping back to normalcy. However, many yards are still not operational. There have been significant job losses and fewer accidents this year due to reduced activities, but workplace safety remains a major concern.
“South Asia shipbreaking unions want to improve occupational health and safety and social dialogue, strengthen union organizing and more importantly drive the campaign for the ratification and effective implementation of the Hong Kong Convention.”
ASSRGWA, a member of IndustriALL affiliate SMEFI, played crucial role in the ratification in India in November 2019, and is now part of the HKC committee set up by the government.
ASSRGWA has prioritized the appropriate implementation of the Recycling of Ships Act 2019 and the HKC, and taken measures to retain existing union members. It will evolve a union organizing strategy in the new Sachana yard and downstream, and continue to improve social dialogue with employers. Currently, more than 5,000 migrant workers have returned to work from their villages, and about 75 ships are being recycled, with 12,000 workers.
SEWA will focus on the creation of cooperatives for sustainable business, improve OHS, provide training on the use of communication tools, and work with the government to ensure the delivery of relief packages for workers.
Bangladeshi unions will improve OHS awareness and training and union structures, streamline membership records, strengthen the social dialogue system with the government and employers, and intensify lobbying with the governments and key stakeholders for the ratification of the HKC and the creation of compliant shipbreaking yards.
In Pakistan, shipbreaking operations have resumed at 60 out of 130 yards, with about 6,500 workers at work. The recycling supply chain, including the re-rolling mills, are gradually resuming their work. The NTUF will improve OHS awareness and training, expand organizing activities, improve the social dialogue system and lobby for the ratification of the HKC.
Atle Høie, IndustriALL assistant general secretary said, that
“IndustriALL appreciate the efforts of shipbreaking affiliates in providing relief to workers during the Covid-19 lockdown measures. The evaluation meetings highlighted achievements, particularly in India, and a long list of challenges ahead in defending workers’ rights in the Bangladesh and Pakistan shipbreaking sector.
“As shipbreaking operations gradually resume, we plan to replicate successful efforts and strengthen affiliates’ initiatives to improve safety and union organizing of shipbreaking workers. India’s ratification of the HKC is a significant step, and we will intensify the ratification campaign to create momentum in South Asia.
“We also thank FNV Mondiaal for extending financial support to IndustriALL shipbreaking affiliates and for their continued support in future”