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Russian crews asking the ship owner to protect them from ITF extortions

Dec. 4, 2012 at 00:35 by Mikhail Voytenko in Container Shipping

Several Russian crews unanimously protested against what they consider an illegal deduction from their wages in favour of SUR, an affiliate of ITF.

Several Russian crews being at sea, unanimously protested against what they consider an illegal deduction of 2% of their gross wages in favour of Seafarers’ Union of Russia, an affiliate of ITF.  Crews asked ship owner to protect them from what they claim, is just an extortion. A letter was sent to Maritime Bulletin from one of those vessels, with the details of the story.

I was specially asked not to reveal, at least yet, the names of the vessels, of the management company and of the shipowners, as well as the names of the seamen who sent to me all the relevant correspondence. They’re afraid of possible repercussions, which may be inflicted on them by the Trade Unions in question, namely – International Transport Federation (ITF) and affiliated Seafarers' Union of Russia (SUR).

Management company sent a circular to all vessels with Russian crews it operates, informing them, that:

In compliance with the provisions of the present CBA between the Seafarers' Union of Russia and the Company covering all Russian seafarers on board your vessels, please be advised that we are compelled to collect monthly Membership dues of 2% of total gross wages from ALL our Russian seafarers and remit this to SUR. So far the Company have been able to postpone these deductions but unfortunately this is no longer possible. Therefore - due to commitments in the CBA we will have to start the deductions from 1st January 2013.

The crew asked me what’s all about, what are the stipulations of the CBA (and what the bloody “CBA” term means, anyway), and on what grounds the Company has to yield to SUR demand to collect Membership dues, providing that there are no SUR members on board, and no one expressed his will to become one.

I sent to them extras from the copy of one of the Special Agreements I have been provided with by the insiders:

SPECIAL AGREEMENT

For Crews on Flag of Convenience Ships

Membership Fees, Welfare Fund and Representation of Seafarers

§30

30.1 Subject to national legislation, all seafarers shall be members of an appropriate national trade union affiliated to the ITF. The Company undertakes not to engage seafarers who are not covered by the present agreement and recommend that all seafarers join the Union.

30.2 The Company shall arrange to pay in respect of each Seafarer the fees in accordance with the terms of the Union. The Company agrees to deduct from the seafarers’ wages the membership fees payable to the Union which are currently 2% (two per cent) of the gross wages per month for both Officers and Ratings and remit them to the Union. In case of seafarers are not permanent members of the Union the Company shall deduct 2% of gross wages and remit this amount to the Union.

The crew applied to a shipowner and asked him to protect them from the SUR “deductions”, or in plain words, from the Unionists’ extortion. Other crews joined them, sending to owner collective letters like this one:

MV ***:

1. CREW - 22 PRSNS INCLUDING MASTER

2. CREW ATTITUDE TO SUR DEDUCTIONS - NEGATIVE

3. MEMBERS OF SUR - NIL

4. CREW MEMBERS INTERESTED TO ENTER SUR MEMBERSHIP - NIL

Best Regards,

Capt.***

It was quite a surprise for everybody, including shipowner and me, to read in a Special Agreement, that “Subject to national legislation, all seafarers shall be members of an appropriate national trade union affiliated to the ITF”. To a public knowledge, there is no such law in Russia, or in any other country, with that. I’m publishing the questions to SUR on behalf of Russian crews who’re indignant about the Agreements made behind their backs, and about unashamed manner in which Unionists treat the seamen, while trumpeting themselves as the seafarers’ only protection.

1. The SUR is deducting 2% something, some kind of a levy, which is not even defined. 2% Membership fee is one thing, but what are the 2% deductions from the wages of those who are not SUR members, nor do they want to be ones? What is the legal status of such deductions?

2. Is there any law, international or national, which requires all the Russian seamen working abroad to be the members of the SUR as an appropriate national trade union affiliated to the ITF? Is the SUR Membership the necessary condition for all the Russian seamen willing to work on board of foreign-flagged vessels?

3. If there no such law, on what legal grounds does SUR deduct 2% of gross wages from ALL Russian seamen, be they members of the SUR or not? How does it stand with the international and national laws? Are those deductions punishable, or are they equaled to force majeure?

4. On what grounds does the SUR sign the Agreements with foreign companies, with the stipulations forced upon all Russian citizen without their knowing:

a) not to employ Russian seamen who are not SUR members;

b) to deduct 2% of gross wage from all the citizen of Russia working in the Company, notwithstanding their membership status.

5. Shouldn’t such actions of the SUR and ITF be considered as anything less than the serious violation of the international and national laws, and the basic human rights and freedoms?

I have little doubt that the above listed questions will go unanswered. But that’s what Maritime Bulletin is generally, all about – an attempt to break the walls of silence and uncontrollableness, which are surrounding the untouchables – the leading maritime organizations. Including IMO, the Round Table and ITF with affiliates. That’s all, in fact, what all the industry media should be about.

Voytenko Mikhail

Dec 1-3 2012

Maritime Bulletin http://www.odin.tc 

  Russian crews asking the ship owner to protect them from ITF extortions

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