European short-sea and feeder ship operators say that they are challenging efforts by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to redefine container lashing as a cargo handling activity in order to bring it under the control of unionized dockers.
The redefinition, which ITF has sought for many years, will mean that the union’s shore-based workers undertake shipboard container lashing under the supervision of the ship’s master. This has previously been a duty performed by the crew. The change takes effect on Wednesday for all International Maritime Employment Council (IMEC) crewing agents.
Six European short-sea and feeder lines, all operating ships of under 560 feet in length, say that the change is legally unenforceable, restricts competition for lashing activities, will bring extra costs and delays in cargo operations, and could persuade shippers to switch to road transport. ITF claims that lashing done by dockers is safer, an assertion that the lines contest.
“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 a recent International Bargaining Forum (IBF) agreement between an International Maritime Employment Council (IMEC) negotiating group and the ITF. The Dockers’ Clause applies to IMEC-member crewing agents beginning on January 1, 2020.
The owner 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 aren’t 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. 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, short-sea and feeder ship interests have come to view the campaign as about job creation for dock workers rather than safety.
The change also raises questions about competition, Venturn says. According to the consultancy, 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.