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‘Collateral damage’: tortuous ordeal of the seafarers left marooned by Covid The pandemic caused chaos within global shipping and crew members from some of the poorest nations paid a high price

Sun, 12/26/2021 - 19:00

‘Collateral damage’: tortuous ordeal of the seafarers left marooned by Covid
The pandemic caused chaos within global shipping and crew members from some of the poorest nations paid a high price

A man smiles while hugging his daughters
Kiribati seafarer Temware Iotebwa is reunited with his daughters Sherlene, 11, Eilene, 6, and three-year-old AyMe. They had not seen their father for almost two years
Among the hundreds of thousands of seafarers left stranded by Covid-19, perhaps none have faced an ordeal as extreme as that of the i-Kiribatis.
Last weekend, after a year-long odyssey across continents – shuttled between foreign nations and locked out of their homeland as waves of coronavirus closed down previously safe routes – that ordeal finally came to an end.
In a palm-fringed courtyard in Tarawa, the capital of the small Pacific island nation of Kiribati, tears and shouts of joy greeted 141 seafarers during an emotional reunion with families they had not seen for almost two years.
Temware Iotebwa, 39, said that at first he did not spot his children – his son, Tawati, 15, and daughters Sherlene, 11, Eilene, 6, and three-year-old AyMe – in the crowd. But their shouts quickly drew tears to his eyes.
Temware with his wife, Takentemwanoku Matiota
Iotebwa with his wife, Takentemwanoku Matiota. ‘She was very worried,’
“When my younger kids first saw me, they were shouting and calling my name,” says Iotebwa, who last saw his children in February 2020. “Hearing their voices and seeing their faces brought tears of joy to my eyes. That Sunday was one of my happiest days. We laughed and we cried, and I got a lot of hugs.”
Iotebwa, an able seaman, had worked a month of a nine-month contract on the Hamburg Süd/Maersk container ship MV Monte Pascoal, when the pandemic was declared. He disembarked in Belgium, before being flown to Fiji.
He and his crewmates have spent the past nine months in limbo, sharing cramped hotel rooms and unable to tell their families when they would see them again.
Of the estimated 1.7 million seafarers worldwide, more than half are from developing countries such as Kiribati, a low-lying nation of 33 islands with one of the lowest standards of living in Oceania and a poor healthcare system. Concerned that it might not be able to cope, Kiribati responded to the pandemic in 2020 by closing its borders. The strategy successfully kept Covid cases at zero.
But for Iotebwa and his fellow i-Kiribati seafarers, it meant a year of hell, caught in the middle of protracted negotiations between the shipping companies, the International Chamber of Shipping and a Kiribati government fearful of the risks of allowing the return of seafarers who may have been exposed to Covid.
When the system breaks down, there’s no safety net
Steve Cotton, ITF
Finally, in April 2021, after months of talks, the Kiribati government agreed to repatriate the seafarers, who would first be quarantined in Fiji. But then Fiji saw a sudden spike in coronavirus cases and the Kiribati government reversed its policy. After allowing about 60 seafarers back into the country, the authorities closed the border again, with no exceptions.
Fauci says Omicron surge will continue and Americansmust not be complacent
Iotebwa had just been told he was about to be flying home when it happened. It was his lowest moment, he says.
“My excitement turned to hopelessness when I heard the news,” he says over a video link from Tarawa. “The waiting time turned from days to months. My kids missed me very much and I missed them.”
His family were worried too; the Grand Melanesian Hotel in the Fijian town of Nadi, paid for by the shipping company, was overcrowded and uncomfortable with no privacy.
“It felt like a prison,” he says. “My wife, Takentemwanoku Matiota Iotebwa, constantly reminded me to be careful and to stay away from people to avoid getting infected. She was very worried.”
They kept their spirits up by playing games of croquet and tug-of-war in the lobby.
Two crewmen in a empty cargo ship's hold
Crew members prepare a ship’s hold before loading. One union leader raised concerns of a lack of understanding of the ‘hardship of individual seafarers’. Photograph: furundul/Alamy
He is happy now he is back at home, but there is sadness, too. One of his friends lost his father, another his wife. Marriages broke up under the strain of waiting and the ordeal has taken a financial toll on the families. The seafarers are often their families’ main breadwinners and a source of remittances. They stopped being paid in early 2021, and now worry about their employment prospects with borders remaining closed.
“I don’t blame anyone because this pandemic can happen anytime and anywhere,” says Iotebwa. “But if my government was smart, it could have found other ways to bring us seafarers home sooner. Other poorer countries arranged their seafarers’ return immediately while still on lockdown.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) held a crisis meeting this month with transport organisations “as a matter of urgency” to protect the rights of those working at sea. Seafarers provided remittances to 12% of households in Kiribati in 2010, and the sector is an important source of employment.
Pastor Matthias Ristau, a chaplain at the German Seamen’s Mission, helped care for 150 of i-Kiribati’s seafaring community who were stuck in a youth hostel in Hamburg for months before being flown to Fiji. “I could see these were really tough guys but after so many months at sea they were already exhausted,” he says.
“And all the time hearing about families breaking, marriages splitting … I know it will take them a long time to finally arrive at home mentally.”
Natalie Shaw, director of employment affairs at the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), says the plight of the i-Kiribati is the biggest challenge she has faced in 18 years – including piracy.
Wendell Pineda, a Filipino
Filipino Wendell Pineda, who works with the engine crew. After his first contract he went home, spent three weeks in quarantine, and before he could see his wife and two-year-old daughter, his company requested his urgent return to sea. Photograph: Aljon Malanjit/ITF Seafarers’ Trust
Shaw, who was instrumental in negotiations between the Kiribati government, German and Danish shipping authorities and various UN agencies, said it had caused sleepless nights for her. An additional 110 i-Kiribati men remain stranded.
“I won’t be happy until we get the rest home,” she says. “We’ve had families in tears, thinking you don’t care. Every time we started to plan we got a new challenge, which makes it really difficult. There were multidimensional, multicountry challenges.
“It became a lower priority for the powers that could have made it happen. Unfortunately,” she adds, “the seafarers are collateral damage in all of this.”
Most of the seafarers worked on ships operated by Hamburg Süd, a German container line now owned by the Danish firm AP Møller-Maersk. In March the seafarers, who were scattered across the world, were flown to Denmark and Hamburg by the shipping companies, in order to group them together for vaccinations and to make repatriation easier.
René Pedersen, managing director of AP Møller-Maersk, said they had seafarers stranded in Denmark, Egypt, Korea, Malaysia and Australia.
““We entered into a dialogue with different governments” he says. “But the Kiribati government was very determined: the border was closed and we could not repatriate them.”
Finally, in late 2021, Kiribati agreed the seafarers could sail home from Fiji on a small cruise ship, the MV Reef Endeavour, as long as they quarantined before landing on Kiribati soil. It took eight weeks, plus a two-week quarantine at either end.
“It’s an indication of how fragile the global maritime industry is,” says Steve Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), who worked with the ICS to help the stranded seafarers. “We take labour from the global south – that definitely has cost advantages. But when the system breaks down, there’s no safety net.”
The new action group led by the WHO and the ILO includes representatives from the ITF, the ICS, International Air Transport Association (Iata), and the International Road Transport Union. Together, they represent 65 million seafarers, aircrew and drivers.
A cargo container ship waits off the coast to enter the Port of Long Beach
A container ship off California’s coast. Crews have had to spend months at sea during the pandemic. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty
One of the group’s concerns is that many of those workers’ home nations lag significantly behind richer nations in vaccinations. Although the situation has improved recently, with an estimated 50% of seafarers vaccinated and the number working beyond their contracts dropping to 4.7% from 7%, the arrival of the Omicron variant has upended matters again, with at least 56 countries reimposing travel restrictions since its emergence.

Tags: seafarers covidslaves on ships
Categories: Labor News

'Sold to China': Greece's Piraeus port town cools on Belt and Road

Thu, 12/16/2021 - 18:19

'Sold to China': Greece's Piraeus port town cools on Belt and Road


Momoko Kidera, Nikkei Asia, December 10, 2021

Piraeus, Greece -- "They sold this place to China and Russia," screamed the graffiti on a road along the Port of Piraeus, about a 20-minute drive from Athens.

State-owned China COSCO Shipping secured the right to operate parts of Piraeus in 2008. It acquired 51% of the port's Greek state-owned operator in 2016, then increased its stake to 67% this October. The company pays 3.5% of the port's revenue to local governments.

China created jobs, but not good jobs, said Giorgos Gogos, leader of a dockworkers union at Piraeus. Certain operations rely on day laborers who are employed through contractors and receive little to no safety training. The port unions called a 24-hour strike after one worker was fatally struck by a container crane in October.

Most of the equipment and materials used in COSCO-led construction at terminals 2 and 3 apparently were brought in from China.

The company committed to invest an additional 294 million euros ($332 million) in the Greek port operator by 2021, but has completed only about 100 million euros so far. Plans to build a new hotel, mall and other facilities in the area have stalled. Greece has refused to accept environmental studies by the company, calling them insufficient.

In January, Greece blocked Chinese state companies from bidding on a power distribution project, citing their foreign ownership.

Belt and Road sit-in at Pakistan port shows no sign of ending

Adnan Aamir, Nikkei Asia, December 16, 2021

Islamabad -- A massive sit-in protest has engulfed the Pakistani city of Gwadar. The monthlong sit-in has drawn thousands of people to the Give Rights to Gwadar Movement. The demonstrators, many of them women, are camped at the entrance to the Chinese-controlled port. The demonstrators demand an end to deep-sea fishing by trawlers in nearby waters, removal of security checkpoints in the city and freer trade with neighboring Iran.

The port in Gwadar is the centerpiece of $50 billion in projects that make up the Pakistan portion of China's Belt and Road Initiative, known locally as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Local residents say there has never been such a large protest in Gwadar's history.

The city of Gwadar is home to about 138,000 people, around two-thirds of whom depend on fishing for their livelihood. Chinese vessels are said to be among deep-sea trawlers which drag large, weighted nets along the sea floor, sweeping up everything in their path.

Last year, Gwadar fishermen protested when it was reported that 20 Chinese deep-sea trawlers had been allowed to fish in waters off Gwadar. In July, five Chinese deep-sea fishing vessels were seized by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency near Gwadar with fish aboard.

Under the current agreement, 91% of port revenue goes to China, the remainder to Pakistan.

Tags: COSCO Union BustingPiraeus PrivatizationChinese union bustingGreek's Port Piraeus
Categories: Labor News

Forgotten Workers from Sea to Shore-Seafarers & Covid-19 A Community Discussion on Seafarers during the Pandemic

Fri, 12/10/2021 - 09:13

Forgotten Workers from Sea to Shore
Join us for a community discussion on seafarers during the pandemic.
Date: Saturday, December 11
Time: 3-4:30 PM
Location: Buena Vista United Methodist Church & virtual

Dec 11: Forgotten Workers from Sea to Shore: A Community Discussion on Seafarers during the Pandemic
To: Terry FCC

Please, see and share attached flyer and join us on December 11th:

Over 1.5 million seafarers worldwide work in incredibly dangerous and stressful conditions to bring the goods that Americans rely on everyday. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic intensified the already horrific conditions of seafarers, exposing them to the deadly virus and leaving over 300,000 seafarers stranded at sea unable to return to their home countries like China, the Philippines, and India. This unseen and forgotten labor is the backbone of our global economy.

In commemoration of International Humans Rights Day and International Migrants Day, we are holding a community discussion on the conditions of seafarers and how we can support them in the Bay Area

For COVID safety, we will offer both in-person and virtual options. We ask that all in-person attendees are either vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID test. Please wear a mask and practice social distance.

RSVP at for more information.

Saturday, 12/11/21
3-4:30 PM

Buena Vista United Methodist Church
2311 Buena Vista Avenue
Alameda, CA 94501

Questions? Call (408) 800-1531 or join the Facebook event here.

Terrence Valen
Executive Director

Filipino Community Center
4681 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94112
415-333-6267 |

Tags: Seafarers & CovidLabor Rights & Covid-19
Categories: Labor News

Hazard Pay NOW! East Bay ATU 192 Transit Workers & Supporters Rally

Mon, 12/06/2021 - 22:19

Hazard Pay NOW! East Bay ATU 192 Transit Workers & Supporters Rally
Over 100 East Bay ATU 192 transit workers and supporters rallied on December 4, 2021 at
Oakland City Hall to demand hazard pay for the dangerous work they are doing during the
They reported on the dangerous conditions and the fear that they have of also infecting
their families and relatives.
The AC Transit Board of Directors has received $150 million in Covid funding but refuses
to use it for hazard pay. Workers and unionists from other transit agencies including TWU
250a attended and spoke at the rally.
Speakers also discussed the anniversary of the 1946 Oakland general strike which was
the last general strike in the United States.
Additional Media:
ATU 192 Transit Workers Rally & Speak Out For Hazard Pay-Oakland General Strike Recalled
New Orleans ATU 1560 Pres Valerie Jefferson Fired By RTA For Defending Worker &Human Rights
New Orleans RTA ATU Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1560 Union president Valerie Jefferson alleges retaliatory
firing over hurricane hazard pay
ATU LOCAL 1560 Members "Drivers" are being forced to work without Proper Training by the RTA
Zurik: Newly hired RTA CEO Wiggins has trail of ‘retaliation’ complaints, including a six-figure settlement to keep complaint quiet
We Called It A Work Holiday-Oakland General Strike
74th Anniversary Of Oakland General Strike & Lessons For Today With Gifford Hartman
Production of Labor Video Project
Production of Labor Video Project

Tags: ATU 192 OaklandHazard PayFight For Hazard Pay
Categories: Labor News

Irish Foyle Port and Burke Shipping Services rocked by strike action

Mon, 11/29/2021 - 22:35

Irish Foyle Port and Burke Shipping Services rocked by strike action

The workers are demanding a pay increase
ByAnna McAree
12:38, 29 NOV 2021
Foyle Port workers on strike
Operations at Foyle Port and Burke Shipping Services have been significantly impacted by strike action.
Workers who kept goods moving during the pandemic are picketing today to demand a pay increase.
It is the second day of strike action at Burke Shipping Services and the first at Foyle Port.
Unite Regional Officer Gareth Scott said he expected the actions to significantly impact operations at the port complex following previous determined pickets by Burke Shipping Service workers on Friday.
He said: “Our members working for both Burke Shipping Services and Foyle Port have kept goods moving throughout the pandemic.
"Yet stevedores and warehouse workers at Burke Shipping Services are paid less than comparable workers in the sector, while dockers and warehouse workers at Foyle Port faced a pay freeze last year and are being asked to accept a derisory pay increase this year.
“This sector is critical to the local economy as well as the Northern Ireland economy as a whole, and our members are determined to secure pay increases which reflect their role as essential workers.
“Given that both companies operate on the same complex and pickets will be placed at all entrances and exits, I expect that the port’s operations will be significantly impacted tomorrow – especially given the strong show of determination by our members at Burke Shipping Services during their first day of action on Friday.
“Both Foyle Port and Burke Shipping Services can resolve this situation by making our members realistic pay offers.”
Strike action in Burke Shipping Services and Foyle Port today
People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin has been supporting the striking workers.
He said: "Strike action is often a last resort but workers are being given no option. Two groups of dockworkers at Foyle Harbour represented by the trade union UNITE are taking strike action to challenge low pay and poor treatment from employers.
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"Dockworkers at Burke Shipping Services are taking strike action this weekend to demand pay parity. Many workers are categorised as 'casual' and receive substandard pay.
"Foyle Port dockers are striking to demand a very modest pay rise of 2.1 per cent. After agreeing to a pay freeze last year, the dockers were offered an insulting 0.4 per cent increase by Foyle Harbour bosses.
"Dockworkers are essential workers and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. The whole sector has been kept afloat by dockworkers, It is time for across the board pay justice and improved terms for all workers in the sector."
A spokesperson for Foyle Port said: "Having consistently paid inflationary rises over many years, the average remuneration of a Foyle Port employee in 2020 was 58% above the median annual earnings for the Derry City & Strabane District Council Area as reported by the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency.
“The Port’s senior management team and Commissioners were confident of reaching agreement with the Union earlier last week through talks facilitated by the LRA.

Irish Foyle Port: Some Port workers taking strike action over pay
Published18 hours ago
Image caption,
Members of trade union Unite say the strike is expected to significantly affect operations at the port
Some staff at Foyle Port in Londonderry are taking strike action over pay.
Members of the trade union Unite said the strike is expected to significantly affect port operations.
The union said the dispute centres on a rejected demand for a 2.1% pay rise this year, following a pay freeze.
Foyle Port said average remuneration for employees last year was 58% above the median annual earnings for the local council area.
Unite said that almost every worker at the port and their families were "struggling to make ends meet and now face a second year of poverty pay".
Foyle Port said the Unite statement "does not accurately reflect the context of the ongoing dispute with a minority of employees at Foyle Port".
The spokesperson added that they "wholly reject the loaded term 'poverty pay', as referenced in the union's statement" and said they have "consistently paid inflationary rises over many years".
Image caption,
Unite members from Burke Shipping Services joined Foyle Port employees at the picket on Monday
On Monday morning, between 25 and 30 Unite members were at a picket line at the port.
The union, which represents workers at Foyle Port, previously wrote to the Port and Harbour Commissioners outlining the background to strike action.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said a recent survey of members working in Foyle Port showed that "almost every worker there is suffering growing financial hardship".
"The effects of last year's pay freeze combined with significant levels of inflation means that our members have had their pay cut in real terms," Ms Graham said.
"Trying to make ends meet is getting tougher and tougher for our members and their families year by year."
The port's senior management team said they were confident about reaching agreement with the trade union earlier this week, and were "disappointed the process did not result in agreement".
They said Foyle Port "remains committed to finding an affordable solution which can provide long-term organisational stability".
Meanwhile, some workers at Burke Shipping Services, which is also located at Foyle Port, are continuing strike action on Monday.
They are continuing strike action from last Friday over a separate pay grievance.
Burke Shipping Service workers at the picket line on Monday told BBC Radio Foyle they want pay parity with Foyle Port employees, as well as others in the shipping industry.
Burke Shipping Services told BBC News NI that they will not be commenting on the matter.

Tags: Irish dockersIrish dockers strike
Categories: Labor News