The redefinition, for which ITF is seeking acceptance at a growing number of European ports, will mean that shore-based workers undertake shipboard container lashing under the supervision of the ship master, where this has previously been a duty performed by the crew.
Six European shortsea and feeder lines, all operating ships of under 170m in length, say the change is legally unenforceable, restricts competition for lashing activities, will bring extra costs and delays in container loading/discharge, and could persuade shippers to switch to more polluting road transport.
Union suggestions that lashing done by dockers is safer are baseless, the lines say, claiming that it is even unclear that sufficient dock worker capacity exists to undertake the task.
“Fully trained ship crews at many European ports routinely undertake container lashing, working within strict safety guidelines,” said Patrick van de Ven, founding partner of Venturn, a maritime and logistics consultancy firm based in Rotterdam. “They are familiar with the ship and its Cargo Securing Manuals, and have a vested interest in ensuring that cargo is safely secured on the vessel they live on."
The amended “Dockers’ Clause” is the result of a five-year ITF campaign on “reclaiming lashing for dockworkers,” which became part of last year’s International Bargaining Forum (IBF) agreement between the International Maritime Employment Council (IMEC) negotiating group and the ITF. The Dockers’ Clause applies to IMEC-member crewing agents as from 1 January, 2020.
The six-member group believes that shortsea and feeder views were not fully represented by negotiators and has sought advice to challenge the legality of the amended Dockers’ Clause under EU law. While agreements made by IMEC are often adopted more widely, employers and crewing agencies are fully entitled to operate outside their terms.
According to the text of the new ‘Dockers’ Clause’, if dockers are not available to lash containers, the ITF will still require crewing agencies to seek the permission of dock unions to do the work and prove that individual seafarers have volunteered.
The Dutch Union FNV Havens has been especially vocal in its support for the ITF position. As well as creating new job roles for its union members, says the group. the proposed change would have the effect of creating a lashing company monopoly in Rotterdam, even though Europe’s largest container port operates under a local harbour decree (Sjorverordening) allowing lashing by crews.
Given that ITF is not seeking to stop seafarers lashing containers altogether, but only to be first in the queue when lashing jobs come up, shortsea and feeder ship interests have come to view the campaign as about job creation for dock workers rather than safety.
One point that trade unions would make is that if lashing work is performed only by dock workers, there is absolutely no chance of the extremely dangerous practice of it being done at sea while vessels are approaching port, in order to save time, even though the practice is illegal in most jurisdictions.