ITF Black Sea Action Week, which was held from 6 to 10 July, is part of the annual campaigns of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) aiming to improve working conditions and rights of seafarers. This year, it went parallel with an Action Week for the East Asian sea region.
In the Black Sea region, ITF inspectors for Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia and Israel and their teams conducted mass inspections of the working conditions and wages on ships.
The aim was to reduce, and eventually eliminate, cases of dangerous substandard shipping, while also informing sailors about the advantages of joining a trade union which would follow closely if their rights are observed and assist them in cases of violations.
For the five days of the campaign, there were inspections in 29 ports on the Black Sea coast and in Israel. 205 ships with over 3110 sailor crew of 23 nationalities were visited and inspected. Among them, most crew members were Turks (608), Ukrainians (581) and Filipinos (547), followed by Russians and Syrians. Bulgarians numbered 51 people. The total amount of wage arrears was over $390,000, and the average age of the vessels inspected was 22 years. In Bulgarian ports,18 vessels were inspected with a total crew of 254 seafarers.
Inspections were looking closely at the living conditions (living quarters for the crew, sanitary facilities, washing machines, quality and quantity of food on board) and the observance of seafarers’ labor rights (what contracts have they singed and if the provisions of these contracts are observed; do they receive their wages monthly; have their overtime hours been regularly recorded).
As a whole, sailors are aware of their rights; but it is difficult to keep track and control the observance of these rights, especially when they are in open waters. There are also widespread fears of dismissal, penalties, reduction or non-payment of salaries that make sailors keep silent. To change these attitude, the ITF conducted an awareness campaign during Black Sea Action Week, informing sailors about the benefits of joining a trade union and signing a collective agreement to cover all crew members on board. Teams of volunteers from national transport or maritime unions participated in the campaign.
Shipping conditions in the Black Sea are tougher than those of other sailors, because many ships have long since exceeded their exploitation age (most are 25 years and older) and do not meet any safety standards, while the living conditions do not meet even minimum sanitary requirements. There are also ships made for inland water navigation which are completely unsuitable for the climate and conditions in the Black Sea. There are plenty of cases where sailors pay with their lives for this. Crews often go on for months without receiving their salaries.
All this prompted the International Transport Federation (ITF) to call the Black Sea “sea of shame” and to fight systematically for the Improvement of living and working conditions of the Black Sea sailors and reduce the number of dangerous ships. More information on this topic can be found in the Black Sea Project page, the short video ‘Sea of Shame’ and the documentary ‘The dark side of Black Sea’.
Since the beginning of 2015, FTTUB and ITF’s joint efforts at Bulgarian Black Sea ports helped collect unpaid wages amounting to over 240,000 dollars to sailors stuck in Bulgarian waters, and rescue the sailors from the Asian Dream ship. As a responsible organization, which successfully represents the interests of all transport workers, and as trade union affiliated to the ITF and actively participating in its activities, FTTUB believes that the time has come to take more active steps to representing seafarers as well.
In the words of FTTUB’s President Ekaterina Yordanova: “Now that the ITF has a maritime inspector for Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Black Sea waters, FTTUB is ready to be as active in the maritime sector as it is in other transport sectors, and to offer assistance and protection to Bulgarian seafarers sailing under international or Bulgarian flags alike.”