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United for a sustainable maritime industry

1 November, 2021IndustriALL Global Union’s shipbuilding and shipbreaking action group adopted sector activities for the next twelve months and agreed to be united to promote sustainable maritime industry for a just future.


The meeting, held on 29 October, was attended by around 50 trade union representatives from 18 countries. Sector co-chair Kenichi Kanda opened the meeting, saying:

“Our sector has been seriously disrupted by Covid-19. There have been supply chain shortages and a drop in shipping due to lockdowns. We still have excess tonnage. The environmental challenges are becoming more serious, and we also face safety issues and digitalization – but if we ride this wave of change, we can prosper in safe and green workplaces.”

Eileen Yeo Chor Gek, sector co-chair said:

“Our sector is in a better position than it was this time last year, with new ships being built, and the introduction of new technology, including hydrogen fuel propulsion, maintenance drones and autonomous systems. Green shipping is the future: we need to prepare our members for this, to protect jobs and enhance safety.”

The world’s first autonomous, zero emissions ship, the Yara Birkland, has been built in Norway and will have its maiden voyage later this year. Plug-in hybrid passenger ferries are already in operation.

Elspeth Hathaway of IndustriAll Europe said European unions had been very active in pushing Just Transition, with some success. The newly established EU Pact for Skills for the maritime technology sector aims to provide training to 200,000 workers across the industry over the next five years, and is planning to recruit 230,000 new workers over the next ten years. Although the sector – particularly the cruise industry – was hit hard by Covid, the European Union has ambitious plans for green shipping. While the International Maritime Organization has set a target for reducing emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, the EU is aiming for net zero by 2050.

Assistant general secretary Kan Matsuzaki gave an overview of the global trends facing the sector, mentioning concerns about the ongoing contested merger between Hyundai Heavy Industries and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering. The Korean Metal Workers’ Union said that if the merger is successful, the new company will dominate the global ship building industry, creating massive consolidation around poor labour practices.

Matsuzaki spoke about progress made towards ratifying the Hong Kong Convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships. 17 countries have now ratified the Convention, passing the threshold of 15. However, because such a large proportion of shipbreaking happens in Bangladesh and Pakistan, ratification by these countries is important.

Vidyadhar Rane of India demonstrated the difference the Convention would make. Since India started complying with the standards of the Convention, facilities have been upgraded and safety has improved. The joint IndustriALL-FNV shipbreaking project has produced a safety manual for workers and succeeded in recruiting thousands of new members.

Matsuzaki also stressed the important of Just Transition, sharing as a model example a Just Transition clause for collective agreements from the Electrical Trades Union of Australia. He introduced the plan for sector activities for 2022. This includes lobbying the governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan to ratify the Hong Kong Convention, and improving women’s participation in the sector and its unions. The sector will also focus on promoting Just Transition and green recovery.

The sector activities for the next twelve months were endorsed by the meeting.  The main focus will be:

  • To create and develop a new trade union network
  • To provide occupational health and safety training in both shipbuilding and shipbreaking, focusing on developing countries
  • To research good practice in promoting gender equality
  • To intensify lobbying activity of the Bangladesh and Pakistan governments to fulfill the requirements of the Homg Kong Convention.

Photo: © Yara / Knut Brevik Andersen, Wilhelmsen Ship Service