11 November, 2022A global delegation of shipbuilding and shipbreaking unions visited the Alang shipyards in Gujarat, India, and the downstream industries in the ship recycling ecosystem, as part of IndustriALL Global Union’s campaign to clean up shipbreaking.
The solidarity visit, by trade unionists from India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Japan, France, the Netherlands and the Geneva head office, was part of a series of activities organized through the shipbuilding and shipbreaking action group. The events included a workshop on the Hong Kong Convention on 6 November, a meeting of the action group on 7 November, the solidarity visit, and safety training delivered by the Dutch union FNV on 9-10 November.
Considered the world’s most dangerous job, shipbreaking has taken a terrible human toll in the shipyards of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. However, India’s shipyards have improved dramatically since the local union, ASSRGWA got organized, and the country ratified the Hong Kong Convention on the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships in 2019.
Although there are still issues at the workplace, including low wages, long hours and precarious work, the situation is much improved. Delegates toured two shipbreaking yards where workers have the right to stop work they feel is unsafe. Workers are provided with protective equipment and safe working plans.
The delegation witnessed a demonstration by the union through Alang, and a rally at the ASSRGWA compound, which was built with funding from Japanese affiliate JBU. The rally was addressed by action group co-chairs Eileen Yeo and Kenichi Kanda, IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kan Matsuzaki and sector director Walton Pantland.
Kanda introduced listeners the Japanese greeting from JBU union members “Goanzenni!”, which means “be safe!”
“We have seen how much we can win through organizing. Our challenge now is to organize even more workers, so we can change the balance of power in the industry. We need to organize in Bangladesh and Pakistan and set those countries on the path towards sustainability that India has taken.”
The delegation visited several downstream operations. Outside the gates of the shipyards, men worked in a makeshift workshop, hand cutting steel plates into discs that would be used to make ploughs and other agricultural implements.
Fifty kilometres up the road, in Bhavnagar, the delegates visited women organized by SEWA who were processing e-waste and recycling old anchor rope into woven mats which are used to created chairs, beds and other furniture.
At the action group meeting, delegates discussed the situation in the shipbreaking industry, as well as trends in shipbuilding. The International Maritime Organization target of a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from shipping is leading to changes in the way ships are designed, as well as experimentation in alternative fuels and propulsion methods. The meeting had a hybrid format with participants also joining online from Australia, Europe and Latin America.
On 6 November, stakeholders in the Indian shipbreaking industry met to discuss progress made towards the ratification and entry into force of the Hong Kong Convention. Employers were represented the Ship Recycling Industry Association and cash buyers, who play an important intermediary role between shipowners and yards, were represented by GMS. A representative of the Gujarat Maritime Board also attended.
The meeting was opened by the general secretary of Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Harbhajan Singh Sidhu, and Matsuzaki, who explained that 2023 is a crucial year for the ratification of the Convention, and that if Bangladesh fails to ratify during that time period, momentum will be lost. He noted that Pakistan had recently pledged to ratify.
Since India ratified the Convention, almost 80 per cent of yards have been upgraded to compliant standards. Unions believe that India is halfway through the process – tremendous improvements had been made, but significant work remains. Unions identified the immediate priority as the establishment of an industry wide joint safety committee.
Matsuzaki proposed the development of a tripartite Alang Standards Committee to agree common standards in wages, safety, workers accommodation, transport, training, downstream and other areas of concern to all stakeholders.