Island hopping: Finding paradise in solidarity

Crew of the Vega Omega meet with ITF Atlantic Inspector Karl Risser.

ITF inspectors can’t solve every problem singlehandedly. We lean on solidarity for strength — sometimes seeking it locally, sometimes from thousands of miles away.

Here’s an example. Karl Risser, our Atlantic Coast inspector, reports in on how he teamed up and coordinated with ITF unions in Barbados and Jamaica. Together, they brought relief to the families of the crew aboard two German-owned ships, and set minds at ease for the men who had to continue on what was an already difficult voyage. The ITF Canada wants to acknowledge the solid support and massive efforts of the Barbados Workers Union and the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union of Jamaica.

Karl writes:

As the year comes to a end and I look back at 2017, one case stands out from the rest. It’s the story of international solidarity pushing back against a German shipowner who had repeatedly failed to pay the Filipino crew working aboard the Vega Omega and the Spica for months at a time.

The story started with complaints made early in the year by  the Vega Omega crew to the seafarers centre in Halifax. I contacted Transport Canada’s Port State Control officials and headed onboard for an inspection. The captain openly confirmed that the crew had not been paid for three months. He had not been paid either, and that helped. Together, we contacted the company. I informed them that their vessel was not leaving until payment was arranged and that a PSC officer was on his way to join us on the vessel.

Knowing they had no options, the owner paid out the wages and the ship left Halifax for what would be the last time. The German owner changed the vessel’s route, but our crew contact continued to report problems with not being paid. I continued to monitor the situation, but could not help because the company no longer responded to my emails. They knew the ports that the vessel was calling into had no ITF inspectors.

Luckily, the ITF affiliate Barbados Workers Union received a complaint and jumped into action itself with their maritime officials. The vessel was detained in Bridgetown late in the year until crew were paid the three months’ wages that had accumulated since the Vega Omega left Halifax.

It truly inspires me to know ITF-affiliated unions around the world are engaged and care about seafarers. And that all it takes is for us to pick up a phone and ask for support — and it appears.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of this story. The Spica — owned by the same German company — took over the Vega Omega’s regular call in Halifax. During a routine inspection, it became clear this crew had the same issues with non-payment of wages. As the case unfolded, another ITF affiliate in Jamaica — Bustamante Industrial Trade Union — stepped up to detain the Spica in Kingston. The crew received payment for three months’ wages before allowing vessel to leave port there.

This shining example of the ITF’s strength confirmed for me that we are an international force for justice. Companies all too often put their obligations to seafarers last on their list of priorities, causing added stress in a already difficult job.

Could you imagine working for your employer for nine months, away from home, with you and your family never knowing if and when you would be  paid? It’s disgraceful.

As we look forward to 2018, ITF Canada plans for several big campaigns. Keep your eyes open as we continue to push back against the FOC attack.

Karl shares a moment with Filipino crew of the Spica.



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