Backed and encouraged by two resolutions adopted by the UN and its Labour Organisation ILO (International Labour Organisation), the German Shipowners’ Association (VDR) calls for greater recognition of the work performed by seafarers and for them to be classified internationally as systemically relevant. “Maritime shipping accounts for 90 per cent of global trade. Despite the corona pandemic, seafarers will once again deliver Christmas presents this year along with numerous goods to make Christmas a special festivity. It therefore is particularly bitter if, due to the pandemic, many of them cannot fly home to their families over Christmas themselves because they still suffer from rigid travel restrictions,” says Alfred Hartmann, President of the VDR: “We therefore call for the UN and ILO resolutions to be implemented especially now over the holidays, but also consistently thereafter, to finally enable seafarers to travel without undue restrictions.”
Hartmann underscored the active efforts of the German federal government at the UN plenary assembly and within the ILO. At its plenary assembly in New York last week, the United Nations adopted a resolution conferring the special status of “key workers” on personnel working on board maritime ships. This was followed by the ILO, whose resolutions are even more strictly binding on its members: The 187 states are called upon inter alia to adopt measures at short notice to enable crew changes to be made, to ease border formalities and, above all, to ensure the necessary medical care for on-board personnel. Still, some 400,000 seafarers on ships worldwide are still waiting for relief at the end of their missions. Because they are not allowed to disembark, return flights are lacking or their countries of origin will not permit them to return home, some seafarers involuntarily spend over one year on board.
VDR President Hartmann also demanded that seafarers must be assigned priority once vaccinations against the corona virus begin in due course. To this end, the German Shipowners’ Association has issued a joint communiqué with its social partner, the services trade union ver.di, in a letter sent directly to German Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn.
“Over 60,000 seafarers on board maritime vessels under German ownership or management are making a systemically relevant contribution by ensuring that Germany and other states are reliably supplied with foodstuffs, commodities or medications. In all the months of the pandemic, there have never been any major supply bottlenecks – thanks to the work tirelessly performed by the men and women on board the ships,” said Hartmann: “As employees within a systemically relevant infrastructure, they should be given preferential access to a COVID-19 vaccine. This would also contribute towards enabling the urgently required crew changes to be made once again in far greater numbers.”
Hartmann’s final warning: “The pandemic makes it clear just how important some occupations are for us – jobs that we have really failed to appreciate in the past. This applies to carers and personnel in hospitals – but also to seafarers whose work on ships far away from coastlines appears to be invisible but is indispensable for us all. Without these seafarers, global maritime trade as we know it would simply cease to exist. As they perform their work with enormous dedication despite all challenges, they certainly qualify as everyday heroes.”