The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has reported that union ship inspectors recovered over $37 million in unpaid wages owed to seafarers last year.
TF’s 125 inspectors and coordinators completed 7,265 inspections in 2021 to support thousands of seafarers with wage claims and repatriation cases. Inspectors are trained to look for exploitation, overwork, and signs of forced labor. They cover more than 100 ports across 50 countries and have the right to examine wage accounts, employment contracts, and review recorded hours of work and rest.
It’s not uncommon for crew to be paid the at the wrong rate by a shipowner, or less than the rate set out in the employment agreement covering the ship. Crew can generally work out when they’re being underpaid.
… said Steve Trowsdale, the ITF’s Inspectorate Coordinator.
According to the Federation, ITF inspectors help seafarers recover what is owed to them by helping them recover what is owed to them. In total, the ITF clawed back USD $37,591,331 in unpaid wages and entitlements from shipowners in 2021.
As the crew change crisis worsened in early 2021, a flood of requests filled the ITF’s inboxes from crew desperate to sign off and get home. Covid-related border restrictions were the underlying reason for the crew change crisis, which impacted an estimated 400,000 seafarers at the worst point of the crisis.
There is evidence that some shipowners were using Covid-19 as an excuse to keep seafarers working beyond their initial contracts and in complete violation of those seafarers’ human and labour rights. Thankfully, our team was wise to what was going on and despite everything we got thousands of seafarers home.
… added Steve Trowsdale
The makeup of seafarers’ wage claims is changing, with a rise in the number of seafarers reporting non-payment of wages for periods of two months or longer, which meets the ILO’s definition of abandonment.
The ITF reported 85 cases of abandonment to the International Labour Organization (ILO) last year, an historic high. In many of those cases, abandoned crew had already been waiting on several weeks’ or months’ of unpaid wages, including those aboard the storm-hit MV Lidia.
ITF inspector based in Hong Kong, Jason Lam, helped eight Burmese seafarers who were crewing the MV Lidia recover almost USD $30,000 in unpaid wages after they ran aground in October 2021. The shipowner refused to pay the two months’ wages he owed them, abandoning them and ruling out any assistance to get them home.
- Total: 7,265 in 2021
- Requests from crew or individual seafarers: 1,861 in 2021 (25.6% of total)
- Routine inspections: 2,870 in 2021 (39.5% of total)
- Breach of contract was the number one failure of ship owners spotted in 2021 — 1,795 cases out of 7,265 inspections. This term includes illegitimate extensions to work periods, unacceptable or unsafe work conditions, and failure to abide by agreed rates of pay.
- Seafarers’ rights can be found in a range of sources. All seafarers have rights under the International Labour Organization’s Maritime Labour Convention – sometimes called ‘The Seafarers’ Bill of Rights’. But crew will also likely have rights applicable to them under various national laws, flag State regulations and collective bargaining agreements.
To remind, recently the Federation issued Respecting the human rights of seafarers in global supply chains, a guidance to show companies how to respect the human rights of seafarers shipping cargo.