Warring Unions put Indian seafarers in a spot

Mar 12, 2012, 3:25PM EST
In the negotiations with the two unions for a wage settlement of ratings and petty officers the ship owners reached an agreement with one of them which the other claims is at the cost of seafarers


For over a decade the Indian ratings and petty officers serving on Indian ships had to go without increment in wages and had to accept a nominal interim relief which was agreed to in 2006, backdated to cover the previous six year period. This agreement was between the Indian National Shipowners’ Association (INSA) and two unions - the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) and the Forward Seamen’s Union of India (FSUI) - both members of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF). The agreement was made effective retrospectively for the period 2000 to 2006.

In the subsequent charter of demands (COD) made for the two-year period of 2006 to 2008 by the two warring unions viz NUSI and FSUI on INSA, the ship owners’ body INSA made a counter demand for reduction in manning of ship by four seafarers which was accepted by NUSI although FSUI claimed that they regrettably agreed to it. This was because no additional benefit was accruing to the crew for taking on the additional burden of four fewer hands on deck.

But when the COD was submitted for the two-year period of 2010 to 2012, in the ensuing negotiations NUSI went ahead and signed a settlement with INSA not just for the two year period but for a five year period from 2010 to 2015 besides agreeing to a further reduction in manning by four seafarers and a three-year moratorium, all this against the wishes of FSUI. This resulted in nearly 2,000 seafarers affiliated to FSUI going on a strike immobilizing 44 ships mostly of the government owned Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) for almost half a day. SCI hastily moved the High Court and had the strike called off to facilitate resumption of talks.    

Last week the Divisional Bench of the Honorable High Court of Bombay passed an order directing the Government of India to set up a tribunal, under section 150 of Merchant Shipping Act of 1958, within 8 weeks to adjudicate and look in to all aspects of the latest wage agreement.


The main contention of FSUI against the agreement signed between INSA and NUSI is that it is anti-seamen. The moratorium of one year 2010-2011 is unacceptable, because most Indian shipping companies’ balance sheets for the last five years, shows no loss. A 5-year wage agreement, FSUI claim, is unheard of and is anti-workers. The reduction in manning by 4 more ratings, without any ex-gratia payment is one-sided gain in favor of ship-owners who will be richer by several millions of dollars. Change in the special allowance clause on ships carrying dangerous cargo, amounts to a loss of $ 200 per month per rating / petty officer and is a great loss to those working onboard such ships.


The adjudication process which is expected to start following the setting up of the tribunal within 8 weeks is likely to be a long drawn process. Until then seafarers have no other alternative but to wait. Incidentally, besides these two major unions (the only ones which are ITF members) there are 14 other unions that have taken shape during the past few years and are slowly making in-road into each other domain. At the rate the competition between unions is shaping up it looks like Indian seafarers will soon have little to look forward to on Indian ships. This no doubt will encourage migration to foreign vessels.



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