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Shipbuilding and shipbreaking unions call for a safer and better sector

9 November, 2023IndustriALL’s shipbuilding and shipbreaking action group met online on 6 November to review global trends in the sectors and strategize a way forward. 

In her opening statement, IndustriALL assistant general secretary Christina Olivier said:

“The occupational health and safety (OHS) in these two sectors are our top priority, especially in the shipbreaking sector where hazardous conditions are prevalent. This sector is extremely rampant with risks and still workers’ welfare takes a backseat to cost end efficiency. We demand that OHS measures and enforcement be a non-negotiable standard. We also need to end union busting in shipbreaking yards. Unions must be able to organize and bargain collectively for safer workplaces, better wages, and permanent jobs. We continue to apply pressure on other countries like Pakistan and Marshall Islands to ratify the Hong Kong Convention.”

Eileen Yeo Chor Gek, sector co-chairperson, emphasized that it was important to work together to drive change and that unions need to embrace this change.

“This sector is a labour intensive one, however with the high demand, shipbuilders are struggling to secure a skilled workforce and turning to robotics. Robots are being developed to improve the efficiency and I encourage all comrades to embrace change and training.”

Co-chairperson, Masao Tsumura, highlighted the need for unions and collaboration.  

“The current conflicts influence the sector’s stability and with these geo-political risks we find difficulty with changes and job security. We the workers need to unite and further our collaboration. The work environment has significantly improved, and we have felt the need to have unions.

“We must continue to focus on improving the working and living conditions for all workers. All the unions in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are striving towards safety for workers in this sector,” 

echoed V.V. Rane, the sector’s vice chairperson.  
A presentation from the OECD indicated that the industry is growing modestly, it is facing challenges adapting to zero emissions and new fuels as well as the change in the variety on the ships that are ordered.
Health and safety, low wages, migrant workers, job losses, union bashing, workers’ rights violations and lack of skilled labour were the issues highlighted when unions provided context of the sector in their country. 

“The shipbuilding industry is in robust health. We need to make sure that this translates into better conditions for workers. For this, we need more cooperation between unions in the sector. In shipbreaking, the ratification of the Hong Kong Convention provides us with a unique opportunity to challenge the balance of power. We need to build our unions including in the downstream industry - and demand a just transition to a better industry,” 

says Walton Pantland IndustriALL director of shipbuilding and shipbreaking. 

Photo source: Shutterstock