Abandoned seafarers: victims of modern slavery?

Revista: SLN Heading nr.1 (1)
Capitol: ITF Seafarers
Pagina: 12-13
Autor: ITF Seafarers - Autor necunoscut

Cod articol: #1-3-238
Link: http://revistacapcompas.ro/reader/revista-slnh-nr-1/12-13

Say to a shipowner that their failure to pay wages and provide proper provisions for a vessel is tantamount to modern slavery and they will howl in indignation. In a recent exchange, a certain shipowner responsible for abandoning several crews stated ‘we strongly refute the word “slavery” which has been abolished in the 21st century and modern age that we live in today’. Not everyone would agree. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 40.3 million people were in modern slavery at any given time in 2016. Its 11 indicators of slavery are: abuse of vulnerability, deception, restriction of movement, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, debt bondage, abusive working and living conditions and excessive overtime. It’s worth considering how many of these indicators feature in the vast majority of cases where seafarers have been abandoned. Abandoned seafarers are usually in a foreign port and far from their families. They want to believe that the company cares about their predicament because the alternative is to rely on the goodwill of the authorities, local unions or charities for support. As owners are well aware, as soon as the employment relationship breaks down seafarers are left vulnerable. Seafarers often say they don’t want to complain yet because the owner has promised to transfer the money next week, the week after, then the week after… Deception is either due to the owner’s misplaced optimism or a cynical approach to running an operation which treats the payment of wages as optional. Movement in ports can be very restricted and, without money, the cost of moving around is prohibitive. Abandoned vessels are often at anchorage, a brutal form of isolation. And the stress of being abandoned puts enormous strain on relations between crew members and can lead to a sense of mental and physical isolation. Though rare, there are also cases where seafarers have been deceived into joining vessels that are involved in criminal activity and experience Intimidation and threats of physical violence. In the not so distant past, identity documents have been withheld and ‘debt bondage’ is akin to the illegal practices of some crewing agents. In spite of the clear prohibition by the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, there are plenty of cases where seafarers have paid significant sums to secure a position on board, only to find they don’t get paid. They may have taken a loan to pay for the job, have a family to support and no wages to maintain repayments. The debts may be to third parties but the result is the same. Abandonment is defined as: • where a shipowner fails to cover the costs of repatriation, or • fails to provide maintenance and support, or • severs ties with the seafarer, including failure to pay wages for two months or more. In many cases the shipowner has not cut all ties and disappeared but is usually lurking in the wings trying to convince the crew to carry on working, or wait until a new order has been secured. In this way shipowners transfer the risks of a chaotic business on to the shoulders of their employees. Work without payment is slavery and should not be tolerated. This industry needs to take a good hard look at itself, if it wants to escape association with modern slavery.