The update of the list of “undesirable organizations” could weaken trade union protection for Russian seafarers.
The decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office to designate the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) as an “undesirable organization” is “a blow to its own citizens,” the Seafarers’ Union of Russia (SUR) told “Kommersant”. According to them, the ITF has been assisting seafarers from the Russian Federation to address their problems for many years - in particular, it had been arranging for their return home during the pandemic. The Prosecutor General's Office claims that the ITF contributed to “imposing a ban on port calls by Russian vessels”. SUR claims that there were no such cases, and that the ITF, on the contrary, did not agree with the demand of Ukrainian trade unions to exclude Russians from the international organization. Maritime trade unions intend to demand the cancellation of the decision of the Prosecutor General's Office. The Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation does not comment on the situation.
Let us remind you that on Tuesday, the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation designated the activities of the International Transport Workers' Federation as undesirable. “Since the beginning of the special military operation, the leaders of this organization, who are citizens of Great Britain and Australia, have been making strong anti-Russian statements, openly condemning its actions,” the Prosecutor General's Office said in the statement. According to the Prosecutor General's Office, the ITF contributed to “the maximum number of countries have introduced a ban on calls to their ports for vessels registered in our country or chartered by Russian companies, as well as those flying the Russian flag.” The Prosecutor General’s Office claims that trade unions controlled by the ITF disrupted the unloading of Russian vessels in foreign ports and, moreover, that the ITF allegedly raised money for Ukraine in solidarity with Ukrainian transport workers.
The International Transport Workers' Federation unites, according to its own data, 740 transport unions from more than 150 countries and represents the interests of about 18.5 million workers. The federation's headquarters are located in London. The ITF website states that its affiliates include seven Russian trade unions.
The Chairman of the Seafarers’ Union of Russia (affiliated to ITF), Yury Sukhorukov, admitted to “Kommersant” that at first he did not even believe the news about the decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office. “The inclusion of the ITF in the list of undesirable organizations is, first of all, a blow to our citizens,” Mr. Sukhorukov is sure. “Today, more than 198 thousand Russian seafarers are employed in maritime shipping - they mainly work under collective agreements that comply with the ITF standard. Any - I emphasize, any! – seafarer knows firsthand what ITF is. In many cases, this is the only authority where a Russian seafarer will get real help. This applies to the recovery of unpaid wages, legal proceedings to protect rights, and in certain cases, even a food supply. The ITF employs about 180 inspectors in almost all “maritime” countries of the world, they go to our seafarers, recover unpaid wages and arrange their repatriation. It is difficult to overestimate what the ITF, with our assistance, has done during the pandemic in terms of repatriation of Russian seafarers.”
Mr. Sukhorukov claims that statements about the anti-Russian activities of the ITF are contradict the reality utterly: “We are not aware of cases where Russian vessels were boycotted at the call of the ITF in connection with the special military operation.” On the contrary, he says, the ITF leadership did not expel Russian transport unions from the organization, although Ukrainian unions persistently demanded this:
“The position of the ITF has always been very balanced: neither the General Secretary nor the President of the Federation has ever publicly spoken negatively about Russia. And the membership of Russian organizations in the International Transport Workers’ Federations was retained in full.”
He reminds that following the decision of the Prosecutor General's Office, any cooperation with the ITF entails serious legal liability. “Now it's official that a seafarer who finds himself in a difficult situation and applies to the ITF for help immediately becomes a criminal,” Yury Sukhorukov states. “The news about the “undesirability” of the ITF will certainly cause indignation among Russian seafarers.”
Also, the SUR head describes the decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office as “an unconditioned blow to Russian shipping.” In world practice, a system has been established where the conclusion of profitable charters is subject to the availability of an ITF-approved collective agreement on board, the expert explains: “There is a so-called time charter clause. If the document on the carriage of goods by sea itself does not contain a reference to the fact that the vessel is covered by a collective agreement with an ITF certificate attached, this vessel simply will not be allowed to enter, for example, an oil or LNG terminal.”
“The inability to benefit from the guarantees of ITF collective agreements, as well as to apply to ITF in case of emergencies and disputes with shipowners, will make Russian seafarers vulnerable to competition in the international maritime labor market. This will deprive them of access to jobs with high wages and labor guarantees,” the President of the Confederation of Labor of Russia, member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights Boris Kravchenko admits.
Chairman of the International Confederation of Water Transport Workers' Unions (which unites the relevant trade unions of the CIS countries) Georgy Stolyarenko also believes that the designation of the ITF as an “undesirable” organization will affect the commercial activities of Russian shipowners. According to him, if ITF agreements are not in place, vessels will be subject to additional inspections by Port State Control Inspectors, and some cargo owners will refuse to enter charter parties with those who do not have ITF agreements.
Mr. Stolyarenko considers the decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office hasty and insufficiently reasoned. “The ITF has a good history dating back more than a century and has established itself as an anti-fascist organization,” he insists. “The accusation of providing financial assistance to Ukraine creates the impression that we are talking about some kind of Russophobic organizations. However, according to our information, that financial aid was provided to the trade unions of river workers and seafarers to maintain the living standards of trade union members.”
The head of the Dockers' Union of Russia (DUR), Maxim Kolyadintsev, told “Kommersant” the ITF is “just an international platform for the exchange of experience” and said that it did not provide “serious assistance in their work, so the breach of relations will not affect their work in any way.” However, the ITF logo is placed in the DUR website header. Also, the main page separately states that the dockers’ union “constantly involved the ITF in securing high standards for pay, working hours and other working conditions for port workers in Russian ports” and that the DUR “participated in ITF actions.”
The press service of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia forwarded a question from “Kommersant” to the Russian Trade Union of Railway Workers and Transport Builders. Its Chairman, Sergey Chernogaev, told «Kommersant» that “designation of the activities of the ITF in Russia as undesirable will have an insignificant impact on the activities of the trade union.” But he admitted that membership in the organization was “a mechanism for exchanging experiences aimed at learning best practices to protect the interests and rights of trade union members, as well as improving working conditions.”
The Federal Trade Union of Air Traffic Controllers and the Aviation Radar, Radionavigation and Communication Workers' Union of Russia told «Kommersant» that they have not been cooperating with the ITF for several years. But the head of the All-Russian Trade Union of workers of motor transport and road facilities, Vladimir Lomakin, said that the ITF mechanisms for sharing international experience are very effective: “The problems of road workers around the world are similar, we met within the ITF, and we learned how these issues are addressed in other countries. I didn’t pay special attention, but I never noticed any political nature in the ITF’s position, including recently. The ITF has continued to be attentive to our requests, so it would be regrettable to lose contact with them.” He added that the ITF never refused to provide advice and organized training and cooperation with other unions.
A «Kommersant» source close to «maritime» trade unions suggests that the Prosecutor General’s Office decided to designate the activity of ITF as “undesirable” “bypassing the Ministry of Transport.”
He said that the trade unions plan to set out a “consolidated position” in the near future and prepare arguments for reviewing the decision. The Ministry of Transport told «Kommersant» that they do not comment on the situation. “Kommersant” sent a request to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation about whether the department had taken into account the possible consequences of the designation of the ITF as “undesirable” for seafarers and business, but has not yet received any response. “Kommersant” also tried to find out the opinion of a member of the State Duma Committee on Labor, Deputy Chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia Andrey Isaev, but he refused to comment, citing his poor health.
Polina Yachmennikova, Natalya Skorlygina Newspaper “Kommersant” No. 166 dated 09/08/2023