We’ve got a quick dispatch from Halifax, and it’s the kind of news that makes us feel good about our work – and about the real-life value of solidarity.
This week, the ro-ro vessel MV Goodwood swung through Halifax on her semi-regular liner service. Karl Risser, our new Atlantic region inspector, wanted to pass along an observation on how good it felt to see the return of a crew who just months earlier sailed into port without the protection of a labour agreement – and now were back with higher wages, better leave pay and better insurance for injury or loss of life.
For ro-ro crew, who sail under risky conditions and face injuries daily, that last part means a lot. The ships have a unique design that poses challenges: slight cargo shifts can rattle their stability, low freeboard can leave doors submerged when they list, and the lack of bulkheads lessens watertight integrity and means fires can spread faster.
The Goodwood is owned in Japan and controlled by Zodiac Maritime Ltd., a company known all too well to ITF inspectors. Late last November, during an ITF labour inspection in the Port of Halifax, we determined that the ship was not covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement (CBA). That’s when Risser and our retiring Atlantic region inspector Gerard Bradbury swung into action.
They began pressing the owners and charterers for a new CBA. Working along the ship’s trading route with our German inspectors and with the ITF Agreements Unit in London, we signed the vessel on Dec. 21, just in time for Christmas.
The new CBA means significantly improved working conditions and salary, especially for the lower-ranking crew. And it showed on their faces when they sailed back into port this week. They were happy.
So Karl wanted to offer big thanks from them to Gerard Bradbury and to Susan Linderkamp of Ver.Di, the German general workers union, for their hand in the increased benefits and wages. When Karl asked about their home union, he says many identified themselves as proud members of the Marine Transport Workers Trade Union of Ukraine.
Karl, who’s always proud to point out he started out with the Marine Workers Federation, reminded us of that small moment of connection we feel when we stand together as workers and identify ourselves as part of a solidarity movement in our own lands. Saying it out loud, worker to worker, means something. So it was good to hear them speak proudly of their Ukrainian ties.
It was equally good to have helped secure them an agreement. Working aboard ro-ros is a risky way to put food on the table, as news from the shipping world this week reminded us all.
Anyone who follows maritime events will be familiar with the recent foundering of the MV Modern Express, a Panama-flagged FoC ship.
As of today, salvage plans were under way to recover the stricken vessel as it continued to drift without crew in the Bay of Biscay off the west coast of France. The crew of 22 were rescued Tuesday after cargo of timber and construction machinery shifted and left the ship listing by 40 degrees in high seas and gale-force winds.
Because the Modern Express is covered by an ITF CBA, the evacuated crew will continue on wages, and have insurance to cover lost personal belongings and any injuries suffered.
So it’s been a week full of great reminders — on the value of bargaining together for decent working conditions, and on our brothers and sisters at sea who make it all worthwhile.