A Dutch court has ruled in favour of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and ordered ship managers to abide by a contractual clause preventing seafarers carrying out lashing work on container ships.

The 2018 Non-Seafarers’ Work Clause was added to International Bargaining Forum (IBF) collective bargaining agreements in 2018.

It followed long-running attempts by the ITF to include a clause to protect dockers’ rights within a seafarers’ collective bargaining employment agreement.

The IBF is shipping’s largest single collective bargaining agreement.

The ITF claim for breach of the clause was brought in a Rotterdam District Court ruling against ship managers Marlow Cyprus, Marlow Netherlands and Expert Shipping.

The ruling means employers that have signed up to the IBF agreement must ensure that container lashing work is handled by dockers and not seafarers.

Although the ITF and Joint Negotiating Group (JNG), which represents employers, have developed a close working relationship — and recently successfully renegotiated the IBF agreement — the non-seafarers’ work clause is one of the most contentious issues between them.

The ITF has argued that the intention of the clause is to protect seafarers’ safety, while employers have argued that the clause is being used to further the ITF’s influence among shoreside workers.

The use of crew in cargo-handling work is particularly relevant in the shortsea liner trades where seafarers have been regularly used in container lashing work.

The Rotterdam District Court ruled that the clause is in the interests of seafarers rather than to protect dockers’ work. It also said solidarity between dockers and seafarers is desirable.

Social dialogue

“Now is it time for these employers, particularly shortsea shipping charterers, to return to true social dialogue and restore good faith with unions, this must include working with shipowners to implement the non-seafarers’ work clause,” ITF president and dockers’ section chair Paddy Crumlin said.

“Our industry has important issues to tackle together, and we will continue to be part of the IBF process that has improved wages and working conditions for seafarers for almost 20 years.”

The current IBF agreement runs to the end of 2023. Following the Dutch court ruling, employers may now call for a revision of the non-seafarers’ clause ahead of the next round of negotiations.