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ITF warns of ‘significant ramifications’ for seafarers after Russia brands union ‘undesirable’

ITF warns of ‘significant ramifications’ for seafarers after Russia brands union ‘undesirable’
Gary Dixon 8 September 2023

Union refutes claims about pro-Western actions made by state prosecutor’s office

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has warned of serious consequences for seafarers after Russia designated the union an “undesirable organisation”.

The ITF was responding to a decision on Thursday by the Office of the Russian Federation Prosecutor General that its activities relating to an alleged pro-Western stance on the Ukraine war “pose a threat to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation”.

The union said it refutes the rationale used.

“The ITF is a global, democratic, affiliate-led trade union federation,” the organisation said in a statement. “We exist to protect and improve workers’ lives.”

It pointed to its worldwide reach, with offices in London, Abidjan, Amman, Brussels, Geneva, Hong Kong, Montreal, Nairobi, New Delhi, Panama City, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo.

“Our mission and activities in Russia — and around the world — are to support and advance transport workers’ rights,” the union said.
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There are 1.65m Russian transport workers affiliated to the ITF, including 200,000 crew members. Many of these sail on ships covered by ITF-approved collective agreements.

The decision will have “significant ramifications” for them, the statement added.

“ITF has continued to support Russian seafarers throughout the war, not only the many seafarers who benefit daily from the protections guaranteed under ITF agreements but also those who have sought and received assistance from the ITF in the recovery of millions in owed wages and the repatriation of abandoned seafarers,” it said.

The Russian decision could restrict the ability of union officials to carry out their roles.

Russia said the union’s leaders took a “sharply” anti-Russia position after the invasion, openly condemning the country’s actions.
‘Promoting sanctions’

“Moreover, in 2022, instead of helping dockers and sailors, this supposedly independent trade union was actively engaged, following the example of Great Britain, in promoting anti-Russian sanctions in as many countries as possible,” the prosecutor’s office said.

The prosecutor alleged this affected the ability of Russian ships to trade.

And ITF-affiliated dockers were also said to have disrupted loading or unloading operations.

A further claim is that the union raised $500,000 to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia, as well as publishing material that creates a negative image of Russia overseas.

The ITF responded that since January 2022, 11,405 Russian seafarers have been on board vessels that it has inspected, recovering almost $4m in owed wages.

No different treatment

It said the union continues to treat Russian seafarers the same as any other seafarer seeking assistance and support.

But the union did not mince its words on the war.

“The ITF stands firm on, and reiterates, our call for peace and an end to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine,” the statement reads. “Throughout the war, we have stood steadfast in solidarity with all working people drawn into this conflict. We continue to call for a just and sustainable peace based on international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The organisation said its solidarity fund for Ukrainian transport workers and their families has been used solely for humanitarian purposes, with money provided to independent affiliated unions and maritime charities.

“We continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, Russia and neighbouring countries calling for peace, dialogue and diplomacy,” the ITF said.

It will continue to monitor the implications of the designation.