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Fighting forward for a sustainable future in the shipbuilding and shipbreaking industry

The IndustriALL global conference on sustainable shipbuilding and shipbreaking took place in Singapore on 1-2 November 2018.  Hosted by Singaporean affiliates the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees’ Union (SMEEU), the Keppel FELS Employees Union (KFEU) and the Keppel Employees Union (KEU), 103 participants from 27 unions in 21 countries took part. The union delegates actively discussed the following:

  • Global trends in shipbuilding and shipbreaking industries and sector activities
  • Organizing and fighting against precarious work
  • Securing sustainable jobs for future shipbreaking industry
  • Promoting Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and sustainable industrial policy
  • Developing a trade union network and strengthening solidarity
  • Future activities and action plan for 2019-2022

The conference was opened by sector co-chairs Brother Kenichi Kanda and Sister Eileen Chor Gek Yeo, vice chair Brother Vidyadhar Rane, and IndustriALL assistant general secretary Atle Høie.

Kenichi Kanda stated in his opening speech:

“Disparity, discrimination, poverty. We, the international trade union movement, should make effort to eliminate those conditions from our society. We must promote our industrial policy which puts workers and people first to secure our lives and to make this industry sustainable.”

In opening the conference, participants observed a minute of silence in memory of the 28 workers who died in an accident on 1 November, 2016 at the Gadani shipbreaking yard in Pakistan. 

A guest speech was made by Patrick Tay, a member of parliament and trade union leader from Singapore who addressed the challenges of new technology.

The world shipbuilding industry has been in gradual recovering since the economic crisis in 2008. However, the industry still faces excess supply and capacity. Kan Matsuzaki, IndustriALL sector director, showed key trends on the world order book, new build ship types, and selected large shipbuilding companies who are key players to the market and trade union networks. 

Elspeth Hathaway from industriAll European Trade Union said that the major challenges which the EU faces are decline in employment and an increase in outsourcing. The EU needs to develop social dialogue and skills training for future shipbuilding.

The shipbreaking industry is expected to grow over the next 25 years, and the implementation of international rules and standards (such as the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships) is a pressing need in the South Asian countries of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan where more 70 per cent of world shipbreaking is located.

Fahimuddin Pasha from IndustriALL South Asia office explained the issues, challenges, union activities and achievements of the organizing project. Unions in South Asia have doubled their membership in the shipbreaking industry over the last four years, and now have more than 30,000 members.

The number of precarious workers in the shipbuilding industry has been rising rapidly over the last decade. Abdelkrim Ahil (FTM-CGT, France), Jaewon An (KMWU, Korea), Edson Carlos Rocha Da Silva (CNM-CUT, Brazil) and Julian Wang (KFEU, Singapore) shared unions’ challenges and activities on how to reach precarious workers, especially to sub-contracting workers and women, foreign and migrant workers, to protect their basic rights within the same collective bargaining agreements as the organized regular workers.

Highlighting the situation of shipbreaking workers in South Asia, representatives from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh asserted that they will continue their efforts towards the ratification the Hong Kong Convention in their respective countries. Representing the Ministry of Industries and the International Maritime Organization in Bangladesh, Mizanur Rahman said that implementation of the Convention is a legal mandate for the government.

The SENSREC project (Safe and Environmentally Sound Ship Recycling in Bangladesh) is creating a fertile ground for ratification. The participating unions committed to continue supporting the shipbreaking workers’ unions, as well as to reach unorganized workers and promote OHS. Marry van der Stel of FNV Metaal shared OHS training good practice of with shipbreaking workers in India.

Promoting sustainable industry policy in shipbuilding is key to maintaining employment. Brian Kohler, IndustriALL director for health, safety and sustainability, said that Industry 4.0 will have a major impact on the shipbuilding industry for which the workers and unions must prepare, working towards Just Transition. 

Since shipbuilding requires the integration of a wide range of manufacturing techniques and skills, international safety and health standards in this industry need to cover many activities and occupations. A presentation on the ILO’s revised code of practice on safety and health in shipbuilding and ship repair was given by Yasuhiko Kamakura, International Labour Office Geneva.  

Setsuki Nakata (JBU, Japan), Mohammad Afzal (FF, Norway), and Thomas Søby (Co-industri, Denmark) shared their respective unions’ views and practices on shifting to high value-added shipbuilding by demanding sustainable industrial policies to the governments and employers as well as OHS activities.

During the conference, the Australian Shipbuilding Federation of Unions (ASFU) signed important cooperation agreements with both the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions in the UK, and CGT NAVAL unions in France.

The conference also focused on trade union networks to increase the negotiating power of unions at multinational corporations at global level. Moderated by Matt Murphy (CEPU, Australia), Glenn Thompson (ASFU, Australia), Ian Waddel (Workers Uniting Europe, UK), Manuel Velado Cambero (FICA-UGT, Spain) and Warren Fairley (IBB, USA) actively discussed developing effective and constructive trade union networks in multinationals such as BAE, NAVAL group, Fincantieri and Navantia.

Before the conference, two trade unions network meetings for BAE Systems and NAVAL-Fincantieri took place on 31 October, and new action plans were set up. NAVAL and Fincantieri trade union networks launched for the first time.

The co-chairs and a vice chair of the sector were unanimously re-elected at the conference. Kenichi Kanda from JBU/JCM, Japan and Eileen Yeo Chor Gek from SMEEU, Singapore as co-chairs, and V.V. Rane from SMEFI, India as vice chair of the sector, representing the shipbreaking unions, will continue to lead. The conference also adopted the sector action plan for 2019-2022.

Kan Matsuzaki said,

“Our priority is to protect workers’ lives and to promote sustainable employment in the sector.  The new sector action plan is comprehensive and a lots of commitments and efforts from our affiliates will be required. Let us move forward to achieve our goals by strengthening solidarity actions.”

Atle Høie said,

“The conference showed great determination to improve the situation for shipbreaking and shipbuilding workers in the world. Trade union networks are being established in multinational companies and there is full commitment to working for the ratification of the Hong Kong Convention. We must once and for all remove the circumstances that allow rich ship owners to strand their ships on beaches of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India to avoid responsibility for the lives lost and the injuries incurred by their inhumane practices. ”

In the afternoon of 2 November, warmly hosted by KFEU, the delegates visited the Keppel FELS shipyard. The company mainly works for the offshore and marine industry and also operates outside of Singapore. The delegates learned of activities and industrial relations in the yards.


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