Monthly Archives: August 2015

We’re taking a brief solidarity leave

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In the next few weeks, you might notice that our blog will not be quite so active.

It’s not that we don’t have a lot of work under way. It’s not that we haven’t got lots to say about maritime issues facing workers here in Canada or elsewhere in the world. And it’s not that we haven’t got anything new to roast the Harper Conservatives with — because there are plenty of issues for Canadian workers to debate and decide on while we are in the election period. (Just one example: a maritime roundtable that would include industry, labour and community in a mature discussion about a national maritime policy that works for this country.)

Instead, for the next two weeks, Peter — the ITF’s Canadian coordinator — will be in London helping to prepare for our upcoming worldwide inspectors seminar. Those are the meetings  where our inspectors receive their training and professional development. And then he’s on to Myanmar to participate in the ITF’s efforts to support and help build our fledgling seafarers affiliate, the International Federation of Myanmar Seafarers.

There’s a lot going on in the maritime and political worlds. We hope that the two months we have been firing away at issues have been enlightening — and maybe even entertaining.

Be sure to pop back from time to time. We will still post our regular Saturday Listen while we’re away, and if there’s a chance, we may be posting a few photos along the way –including from Yangon. And we hope to report back on our efforts in Myanmar, so be sure to look for that too sometime later in September.

For now, we wish you all the wind at your back. We’re going to need it to assist all of us in ridding ourselves of the risky Harper Conservative Government.

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Your Saturday Listen: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a haunting song and a lesson learned

This week’s Saturday Listen takes you for a wild ride aboard one of Canada’s best-known shipwreck ballads. We offer it up in honour of all workers who risk their lives at sea to move our goods.

The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald wouldn’t have been a particularly famous tragedy beyond the Great Lakes had a news story about it not caught the eye of Gordon Lightfoot, one of our country’s most beloved folksingers. But it did, and he responded with one his best-known works, a song whose images of bitter winter winds and the powerful rage of the sea resonated deeply with Canadians. Continue reading

A victory for women, workers and labour

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Labour victories are few and far enough between that when they come along, they’re worth savouring. Today, we’re delighted to report that crew of Qatar Airways will no longer be fired for being pregnant — thanks to a global campaign partnered by the ITF and the International Trade Union Confederation.

Last month, we wrote about the ITF’s critical victory in winning a ruling that Qatar’s repressive regime was guilty of allowing its state-owned airline to institutionalize discrimination by firing pregnant cabin crew — a victory that mirrored a similar long, hard struggle to protect pregnant seafarers aboard flag-of-convenience ships.

In Canada, we were part of the ITF’s campaign to win just conditions for the air crew.

It was no that secret Qatar Airways was the name sponsor on the team shirts for Barcelona FC, the Spanish football giant. Barcelona had always styled itself a socially progressive team, to contrast itself with RealMadrid, which was the Franco fascist favourite. And Barca was on a North American pre-season tour  this summer — and playing the LA Galaxy. The match had a massive media profile, so we took to social media, linking to stories asking Barcelona to review its sponsorship with Qatar. This kept us busy for nearly two weeks, raising the profile of our campaign in North America and probably causing some concern in the LA Galaxy marketing department.

Well, the shame and pressure from all sides worked.

And it ought to provide everyone around the world who works so hard, sometimes at great cost, a moment of inspiration. Your work and solidarity makes a difference in the lives of workers.

Ships of Shame: the ugly beat goes on

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The best stories about labour rights are the ones with happy endings, that conclude with the abuse relegated to the past and the workers ensured a safe, respectful workplace. Where they work happily ever after.

The story of seafarers rights and the ITF’s efforts to enshrine and enforce them, doesn’t have a happy ending yet.

Last week, even as we were writing about a new labour tool we helped the shipping world develop – even as we were detailing one new small step forward – the ITF’s Australian inspectors were boarding a ship where five crew reported that they’d been starved, locked in a cargo hold and told they would be killed and their deaths “made to look like suicide.”

Our point: The cheating and abuse and disgraceful behavior of shameful shipowners isn’t a relic of an unenlightened industry’s sorry past.

It still goes on.

In the port of Mackay on the coast of Queensland last week, Australian  ITF inspector Matt Purcell found that crew of the Korean bulk carrier MV C. Summit had been working for months without pay. They had been locked in hatches, forced to do work outside of their requirements and were living on what Purcell “could only describe as a starvation diet.”

Purcell, who described the abuse as “the worst kind of bullying he had ever encountered”, also discovered the ship was operating with two contracts: one that workers signed prior to boarding and the other, which doesn’t meet even the most basic international standards for labour agreements, signed shortly after the crew joined the ship.

No surprise. The ship is owned by Korea-based Chang Myung Shipping Co. and sails under the flag-of-convenience-like Korean registry. It has racked up repeated deficiencies in several port state control areas. As recently as November of 2014, it was found to have breached Denmark’s labour standards.

For Canadians, our point is more than just a reminder that substandard shipping still exists.

It is also a reminder that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are pushing hard to sign trade deals that cement foreign corporate rights in Canada. One of his recent targets is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, that he is chasing in Europe.

Under the deal, our coastal trade, now limited to Canadian-registered and crewed vessels, would be thrown open to foreign flags, one step at a time. The sellout would not likely end until all three of our coasts, our Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway were cleared of Canadian jobs – and our passenger ferries on both coasts as well.

It is a race to the bottom, and it is wrong.

As ITF inspectors in Canada, it is our job to use whatever legal and industrial means we can to enforce the rights of seafarers on foreign-flagged vessels whenever we find them breached.

As Canadians, it is our moral job to raise our voices against Harper’s plans.

You can find more on that effort here.

MLC Week postscript: Wow, thanks for a week of real solidarity!

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Vince Giannopoulos (in white), our inspector for the St.Lawrence/Great Lakes, says the MLC is proving a useful enforcement tool as he works with seafarers.

We wanted to say a quick thank-you for all the interest in our posts on the Maritime Labour Convention this week. You never know what to expect when you dedicate that much space to a regulatory topic — but we got a lot of shares and tweets and emails, and it feels great to have been able to record the history of our latest labour tool, and some of the horror stories that led to its adoption.

It’s also heartening that people care about efforts to improve the life of working people — and the sometimes-obscure international and technical tools we have to develop to protect them in their workplaces. Solidarity is a magnificent thing, so thanks for that too.

We’re going to close by sharing one of the best emails that rolled across our screen this week. Last word goes to Vince Giannopoulos, our ITF inspector in the St. Lawrence/Great Lakes region. Vince sent along his own thoughts about how it feels to be a relatively new inspector and have the weight of the MLC available as he works daily to enforce seafarers’ labour rights:

“Being appointed as an ITF inspector in a post-MLC2006 time is pretty significant. I’m working with the bible, as it’s referred to by most of us.

“As with any job in the maritime sector, the ITF inspectorate is full of old warriors with old sea stories. I’ve heard endless stories from experienced inspectors, full of different details of different cases. Most often, the stories end with “Boy are you lucky you’ve got the MLC2006 on your side now”.

“This year marks two years since the convention has been enforced in Canada, and so far, its record gives me many reasons to be happy about it. I have personally worked with crews on cases where we were able to get the necessary leverage over a company by using some of the protection offered by the convention. It covers very important and frequently reported issues — such as the details required in a seafarer’s contract, and the details regarding a seafarers’ entitlement to repatriation.

“The MLC2006 has taken some criticism from some as well, and while I think it’s a great tool to have in the belt, it’s certainly not an all-purpose tool that can deal with all the issues that seafarers face, and I’d like to take a quick look at why I think that is.

“The MLC is split into two parts, and only one is mandatory.

“Another problem is that while there are some mandatory compliances, the wording is often a little more vague than one would expect from an international convention.

“Maybe it’s because I don’t have the previous experience of working without the MLC, but I defend it nonetheless. It is not perfect, but I believe that the slightly open language used was probably necessary. As well, I remind myself that there are 66 countries that have ratified (and counting), and as we continue to improve upon it, hopefully the requirements will continue to trend in the right direction.

“The most important thing to remember is that ships flying the flag of a ratifying country must have a DMLC on board, a Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance. The language in the book can be as open or as direct as we want, but it doesn’t mean much without the men and women on the ground every day, enforcing it.”

Well said, Vince.

If you’re just catching up now, here’s how our week looked:

 

 

MLC Week: Your Saturday Listen takes in the sights and sounds of the MLC’s launch

Time to tie up the Good Ship MLC Week and move on to other topics. We wanted to close this week with a video from the International Labour Organization. It’s a thorough and really interesting look at why the MLC was put together — and the many hopes that it would help entrench and enforce the labour rights of seafarers. It’s a great summary of the issues and features some pretty direct comments from the folks being interviewed.

We hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for wading through this week with us. For anyone interested in more on the MLC and the international push to forge tool that would help seafaring workers, the ILO has some great resources. We’ve put one of their comprehensive videos at the top of this post. You can find a web page with more material of theirs by clicking here.

And in case you missed any of our earlier posts:

About that ITF coordinator trying to swim the English Channel: He made it!

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Dean Summers, national coordinator for the ITF in Australia (right) celebrates his August 2015 swim of the English Channel. Greeting him after his arrival in France is Christian Roos, ITF assistant coordinator in Belgium. Our thanks to Christian for the photo.

UPDATE: We’ve added video footage of Dean’s swim at the bottom of the post

Earlier this month, we told readers about Australian ITF Coordinator Dean Summers’ plan to swim the English Channel to raise money for seafarers’ assistance programs. Today we’re delighted to report that he made it — and was met today as he waded ashore by friend and colleague Christian Roos, the ITF’s Assistant Coordinator in Belgium.

Chris waited on the beach in France, just west of Calais, trying to predict Dean’s landing point as the tide pulled him farther down the beach with each new calculation. Eventually, Dean took his first wobbly, celebratory steps ashore.

The two embraced and, in the best of Belgian traditions, Chris offered Dean a beer to wash the taste of the North Sea out of his mouth.

An hour or so after “a truly knackered ” Dean had downed his beer, dried off and warmed up, he offered us a few thoughts on the adventure: Continue reading

MLC Week: Canada makes history with the Hydra Warrior, the world’s first convention detention

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The Hydra Warrior, photo courtesy of Jan Inge Karlsen at the MarineTraffic.com website

When you make it your life’s work to help defend the labour rights of seafarers – still among the world’s most marginalized and isolated workers – it’s a joyful day when you and your colleagues around the globe are handed a new tool in the fight.

It’s an even more joyful day when you get to be the first to use it.

Canada and the ITF’s Canadian inspectors hold those big, bold, beautiful bragging rights. On Aug. 22 of 2013, Canada detained the first ship ever held under the new Maritime Labour Convention – just two days after the MLC came into effect.

(A quick bit of background: In 2006, labour, industry and the International Labour Organization agreed on the terms of what has been dubbed the “seafarers bill of rights” convention; that’s why it’s known as MLC-2006. But we had to have 30 countries representing 33 per cent of global tonnage to ratify it before it came into force, and that only happened one year after the 30th country signed on. On Aug. 20 of 2013, all that was done and the convention was enforceable in Canada, which was 10th to sign on.)

As we pointed out earlier this week, Canada was trained up and ready to hit the deck that Aug. 20 as the convention kicked in. And that proved to be a good thing.

On Aug. 8, 2013, Canadian ITF coordinator Peter Lahay was contacted by ITF Inspector Sven Hemme from Bremerhaven in Germany. Sven wanted to let Peter know that he had made a wage claim against the notorious Polembros Shipping.

The bells went off immediately. For many years, the world’s ITF inspectors had had Polembros  in their sights.

The company had a reputation among inspectors as a very difficult employer that would sometimes sign collective bargaining agreements — perhaps to satisfy the charterer, for example — but would never honor those CBAs. They were serial abusers of crew. Over the years, countless Polembros vessels were subject to backwage claims by our inspectors. Continue reading

MLC Week: The human face of crew abandonment

Gerard Bradbury of the International Transport Workers Federation speaks with reporters Friday on the dock in St. John's next to the stranded Russian cruise ship Lyubov Orlova. The ship and its crew remain in the capital city while the fate of the vessel is decided by its owners.Ñ Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

ITF inspector Gerard Bradbury on the dock in St. John’s, behind him the stranded Russian cruise ship Lyubov Orlova.        —   Photo courtesy St. John’s Telegram website

Time to bring on the humanity.

At some point when you talk long enough about international regulations like the Maritime Labour Convention — the focus of our posts this week — the details and technicalities and jargon start to take over. So in Part Two of our look at abandonments in Canada, we turn to the moving human stories that have prompted plans to amend the MLC to address the plight of workers stuck aboard vessels that disgraceful shipowners have simply walked away from.

For the Canadian inspectors who have all too often had to look abandoned crew in the eye and explain the steep and uncertain road they will travel to claim the wages they have been cheated of and the flights home they are owed, such a tool cannot come soon enough.

One of the most heartbreaking Canadian abandonments unfolded in 2010 on the East Coast, where 51 Russian crew aboard the cruiseship MV Lyubov Orlova were stranded in St. John’s by Losco Shipping, a Russian owner that walked away rather than pay the $251,000 they owed the cruise company for repairs it had made to their ship. The Russian company didn’t think it should pay crew $321,000 for the five months’ wages they were owed either.

The Orlova was seized on a trip into St. John’s in September of 2010, over an unresolved financial dispute between Cruise North Expeditions and the Russian shipowners. With the disappearance of the owners, crew would be left to fend for themselves for three long months — dependent on local residents, who donated food, clothes and cigarettes until crew were repatriated to Russia.

It was a difficult and infuriating case for the ITF and our Atlantic inspector, Gerard Bradbury. It would be difficult for any of us to watch workers go unpaid. To know they sat day after day, hoping hard that a stranger might deliver them fresh food. To watch five adults huddle around a single cigarette, sharing the smoke among themselves. To watch local members of trade union Unifor hand over a stack of pizzas, hoping it might help stretch the food supplies on board. Or to watch the cruise company refuse to ask for crew wages when its lawyers went to court with the company’s claims.

All of this human misery unfolded as Russian news outlets aired glowing stories about the great care and good conditions crew were living under – apparently to fend off any demand that the government step in and do the right thing by its own workers.

Gerard recalls every trip from Halifax to St. John’s to try to help the crew.

“I remember every time I went down there, looking at their faces. Continue reading

MLC Week: The disgraceful ABCs of abandonment

For ITF inspectors who climb gangways across Canada daily, there is great joy in any new tool that helps us better defend and enforce the labour rights of the men and women who work aboard ships. This week, we’re taking a look at the Maritime Labour Convention, one of the newest tools in our belt. As we heard yesterday, it’s still a tool-in-progress, and one of the issues that will be amended next is abandonment of crew and vessels.

There are many issues that players in the international shipping industry should be condemned for, but the greatest shame on the shipping industry arises when owners simply walk away from ships and the workers who man them.

Abandonments happen when a shipowner either willfully or through negligence leaves their ship and its crew behind in whatever port or anchorage they might be sitting.

How can an owner can simply walk away from a ship and its crew in a foreign port? Understanding how ship ownership is structured is the key to understanding.

All ships under flags of convenience are registered as single-ship companies. Simply put, they are each a singular business entity. An owner might control a fleet of 50 ships, but every one of them is a single-ship company registered in a flag-of-convenience country like Panama, Malta or Liberia.

If an owner is cutting corners and hiring or chartering a ship out at low rates, or is ignoring maintenance, underpaying or even not paying the crew, and maybe not even paying operational costs like debts to bunker suppliers, then such a shipowner is eventually going to run up against a wall. That wall might be the mountain of credit owed to  suppliers, or bills for repairs, or fees for classification societies certificates and or payment of crew wages. Sometimes a vessel is simply caught by Port State Control inspections like those carried out by Transport Canada, and the list of deficiencies is such that the ship cannot leave port — which means cargo isn’t delivered, charterers sue for non-performance and no one gets paid.

That’s the profile of a substandard shipping operation — and a good portion of the industry is run exactly like that. Continue reading

MLC Week: ‘There’s a growing awareness that seafarers can speak out and claim their rights’

When ITF inspectors first got wind of news that shipowners, maritime unions and the International Labour Organization were planning to re-write and consolidate out-of-date seafarer labour conventions, most of us were skeptical.

The idea that a new and improved Maritime Labour Convention would be any more useful, powerful or popular than all the other earlier, dust-covered attempts was hard to accept. Many of us worried that a broad new international “seafarers bill of rights” would actually pull down higher standards that had been won elsewhere, and that shipowners would use the convention to argue they no longer needed to sign labour contracts with their workers.

In short, as much as we welcomed any kind of new tool in the battle to establish and enforce seafarers’ labour rights, some of us were highly critical of the notion that this paper exercise would make any real difference in the lives of these workers — or advance the interests of the ITF’s Flag of Convenience campaign in any real way.

The convention was completed and adopted two years ago, and some of that skepticism remains. That was apparent throughout the specialized training provided to us by the ILO and paid for by the ITF, and it’s still apparent. Two years into the experiment,  if you want to throw a grenade into a room full of otherwise peaceful inspectors, just ask whether they think the MLC is a good thing. A fight will undoubtedly break out between those skeptics and the inspectors and affiliates who think the convention is a good thing, that some progress has been made, and that as enforcement begins, some of the reviews just might turn out to be positive.

Today, in Part Three of our week-long look at the MLC, we speak with the ITF’s Katie Higgenbottom, one of the people who took part in the negotiations that led to adoption of  the convention. We asked Katie about how successful the rollout period has been from her perspective , and what work remains to be done. Our thanks to Katie for her time and  her straightforward answers. Continue reading

MLC Week: Canada takes new wood to Ships of Shame

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For decades, maritime trade unions have extended a heartfelt hand of solidarity to seafarers in distress in foreign ports. Too often, though, those wanting to help have been badly limited in the support they could extend — because national laws do not apply to a seafarer who is foreign, sailing on a flag-of-convenience ship registered in one country and working for an employer in yet another.

How in the world can crew who haven’t been paid, or have no food, or need medical care, be helped when there are no laws or labour boards with jurisdiction to address the horrific conditions and distress they sometimes suffer — conditions that ITF inspectors confront all too often?

This week, we’re taking a series of looks at a new tool that strengthens the ability of workers to stand up for their labour rights, and helps them support one another in having these rights respected and enforced: the MLC, or Maritime Labour Convention.

In Canada, ITF inspectors bear routine witness to the havoc that substandard – and most often flag-of-convenience – shipping wreaks on maritime workers. We have seen it all: unpaid wages, rotting food, sick and injured workers, unsanitary and unsafe conditions. For anyone raised in a country with even minimal expectations about fair treatment for working people, the conditions are appalling enough to make us vomit. Sometimes literally.

Today, we offer a quick look at a handful of the Canadian cases that illustrate why the MLC was necessary.

Peter Lahay, Canada’s current ITF coordinator, describes the first case he ever handled, in the fall of 1991, as a perfect illustration of life before the MLC came into force two years ago – life for crew, and life for an inspector trying to help rectify problems aboard.

As Lahay tells it, the ITF inspector serving Vancouver was away at an education conference when the crew of Zodiac Maritime’s MV Hemlock called the office of Local 400 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union looking for help.  Dave Crain, president of the local, sent Lahay down to investigate.

What he found on the Hemlock was stomach-churning. Many of the crew were from Bulgaria, and explained that officers and crew were being treated very differently. The vessel was crawling with cockroaches, and when the officers dosed their messroom with bug spray, the roaches fled to the crew’s side. The officers had meat and fresh vegetables every day; the crew had very little meat and were given only the vegetables that were spoiling.

Crew brought Lahay into the officers’ mess and opened a small fridge to show him the supply of bottled water; in the crew’s mess, there was no fridge and no bottled water. In fact, the last time the ship took on fresh water was in Venezuela, where it had pumped up water directly from the Orinoco River. Crew were suffering from stomach ailments and receding gums as a result contaminated water and poor diet.

Finally, one crew member stepped up with tears in his eyes to say he needed medical attention but was being refused by the captain and the owners. A second crew member began to pull the man’s pants down. Lahay attempted to stop him, but the man said, “No, you must see this” and motioned for his friend to drop his pants and underwear and bend over. When he did, Lahay was horrified to see a tangle of blue, green and purple hemorrhoids some 50 centimetres long dangling from the man’s arse – the ailment for which he was refused a doctor. Continue reading

MLC Week: How the world came together for a Seafarers’ Bill of Rights

Substandard shipping – shameless shipowners exploiting workers to make a profit moving goods – has probably existed forever. But why has it been allowed to exist for centuries? Who profits by substandard shipping and who is harmed? And why does the system flourish?

One way to think about the issue is by looking at a new tool forged recently from the conviction that maritime workers have labour rights, that companies ignore them to gain competitive advantage, and that inspection and enforcement of a defined set of acceptable working conditions would go a long way to help seafarers. That tool is formally known as the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 – informally dubbed the MLC, or the Seafarer’s Bill of Rights.

It’s a tough world for workers, and getting tougher by the minute. Tools that protect them, especially those agreed to internationally, matter – both to the maritime world and the greater labour community.

August 20 will mark the second anniversary of the coming into force in 2013 of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006. (The “2006” often confuses people; it’s the year it was adopted by the International Labour Conference of the ILO.) To mark the anniversary, the ITF in Canada blog will focus on the MLC this week. We will look at the convention from a global perspective, but also talk about what has happened in Canada since it came into force. (Spoiler alert: It’s a government story Canadians can actually be proud of!)

Briefly, the convention sets out standards for employment conditions (things like training and the minimum age for work, payment, hours of rest, leave, repatriation and manning) , accommodation, recreation facilities, food, health and medical care — and compliance and enforcement of those standards.

But first, a bit of history to help understand why we have the convention – and a bit on what it’s all about.

The MLC is a convention of the International Labour Organization. It’s the result of many years of negotiation and dialogue between ILO member nations, shipowners organizations (under the umbrella of the International Chamber of Shipping) and seafarers labour organizations (under the umbrella of the ITF).

Decades ago, the ILO determined that seafarers were a unique workforce. Drawn from many differing nations and working aboard vessels of many different flags, working far away from home and facing certain hardship and sometimes unscrupulous treatment at the hands of brutal employers, the ILO determined that seafarers were in need of special protections. Many ILO maritime conventions were drafted, and sometimes adopted by member states. But they remained largely unratified and ignored by members – and so were of no real value for use by maritime governance authorities or even seafarers labour organizations.

That’s a simple but important lesson. The best of intentions by groups like the ILO mean nothing if members don’t ratify the resulting conventions and spend money and political muscle on their enforcement.

Horrible maritime incidents continued.

A quick look at a list of them shows that it was largely flag-of-convenience ships that caught the public’s eye and prompted great condemnation of the shipping industry. Continue reading

Your Saturday Listen: Fatigue really does kill

For your Saturday Morning Listen this week, we’ve got another video for your viewing pleasure — one we we hope will encourage you to think carefully about how we as workers, owners and managers organize our work schedules.

For decades, accident reports have found that fatigue has played a role in maritime incidents — including some of the most horrific, such as the oft-cited Exxon Valdez.

But although the problems associated with fatigue are well known, industry continues to cut crewing levels on vessels, doubles up on duties and reduces leave time.

Even now, while Harper’s Conservative government and some corners of industry will have the Canadian public believe they have constructed a “world-class tanker-safety” regime, B.C.’s largest tugboat company — Seaspan ULC, which intends to profit in the LNG and tanker-escort and berthing business — is slamming its seafarers against the wall. Seapan ULC has demanded 49 concessions from the Canadian Merchant Service Guild and ILWU Local 400 Marine Section. Many of these concessions will have a direct impact on overall crew wellness and fatigue.

That’s a story for another day. Our point for now? Fatigue is a critical issue, and it’s one that industry has yet to acknowledge with appropriate arrangements. ITF inspectors and even port-state control officers will tell you that shipping companies are fudging the “hours of rest” record books — the records that indicate how long crew have worked and how long a rest period they have been given.

Please take 30 short minutes over tea this morning to watch the video, consider the impact of fatigue on the marine environment and on crew welfare —  and reflect on how we really can protect our coastal environments with stricter rules and stronger enforcement of maritime-safety standards.

Our thanks for the video go to the Seafarers International Research Center of Cardiff University and our to ITF affiliate Nautilus, which provided partial funding.

Enjoy:

Why is an ITF coordinator swimming the English Channel?

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ITF inspectors are sometimes known to be a bit different. We work in a unique trade-union environment and often face incredible challenges in solving problems.

Many of our regular readers and international activists will know Dean Summers, who hails from the Maritime Union of Australia and is the ITF National Coordinator for Australia. Dean is one of the reasons we are known to be a bit different — and why we are known for getting things done.

About five years ago, Dean marched clear across Spain because he wanted to go for a wander in someone else’s outback. As his latest dream-big-or-go-home trek, he has taken on the massive challenge of swimming across the English Channel. His swim will mark the 140th anniversary of the first successful channel swim by Matthew Webb, who was also a mariner. (Dean has yet to announce whether he will be following Webb’s lead and making the crossing coated with porpoise oil.)

Brothers and sisters in Canadian maritime unions know Dean, a fourth generation seafarer, as a tireless supporter of our struggles here in Canada (much as we are always there when the bell rings in Australia). Right now, Canada and Oz both have anti-worker governments in power, extreme neo-conservatives tearing apart of respective social fabric leaving workers vulnerable. It will come as no surprise to those who know him that with those vulnerable workers in mind, Dean is not swimming for simple personal achievement. While he is crossing the channel, with each stroke he will be raising money for Hunterlink Recovery Services, an employee-assistance program. The money he raises will be used to provide additional services to maritime workers who might otherwise fall through the cracks of a society now led by an uncaring government.

At the ITF Canada, we are proud to call Dean an ally and a brother — or comrade, as they say Down Under. Many of us have already made a donation, and we challenge all of our readers to click on the link below to support Dean’s efforts and power him from Dover, England to wherever he may wash ashore in France.

When he hits land, I know maritime workers will be there to greet him with a warm blanket and a nice red from the Bordeaux.

Fair tides all the way, Dean. We are with you.

Dean has set up a website for his swim where you can keep up to date with his training, read about the cause and make a donation.