«ITF Yellow Certificate» Scheme is Exposed

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In the autumn of 2017, the PS brought up a fairly pressing and critical topic: a story concerning the ZEUS I, owned by the Navarone company, showing that the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) applied double standards. As a reminder, the Ukrainian Marine Trade Unions’ Federation (UMTUF) discovered that this vessel, flying the Panamanian flag of “convenience”, was covered by a collective bargaining agreement of the ITF-affiliated Cypriot trade union, and its crew was paid substandard wages. Early 2018 was marked by further investigation of this case and one thing is now clear: there are no doubts that the ITF turns a blind eye to the substandard activities of its affiliated trade unions.

Commenting on the ZEUS I story in her interview for the popular maritime newspaper Trade Winds, ITF Maritime Coordinator Jacqueline Smith said that “it was absolutely unclear” how the vessel was entered into the ITF database as covered, and said that the ITF intended to investigate the matter properly. However, the vessel is still in the database as being covered by ITF agreement. Anyone familiar with the procedure for the execution of ship documents understands that it is practically impossible to get a ship into the database of ITF-covered vessels by mistake.

What we have here is the practice of issuing so-called “yellow certificates”, whereby collective bargaining agreements are signed for lower wage rates than those specified in the ITF policy. The Cypriot affiliate is not the only one involved in this scheme. The widely known and respectable Greek trade union the Pan-Hellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO) is also involved.

UMTUF Chairman Maksym Sliusarevskyi says that Navarone is not the only company dealing with the ITF-affiliated Cypriot trade union, which issues yellow certificates. According to the UMTUF’s recent discovery, Platon (of Greek shipowner Navina Maritime SA), flying the flag of the Marshall Islands, is entered into the ITF database as being covered by an ITF-approved collective bargaining agreement, although in fact the vessel also holds a yellow certificate. Seafarers are paid wages $1,100 less than provided for in the ITF scale. Able seamen are paid $700, as demonstrated by the contract attached.

The UMTUF carries out inspections on a regular basis for the purpose of controlling seafarers’ working conditions aboard. And we come across proofs of yellow certificate scheme, which becomes more common. “After visiting m/v Apogee Endeavor, IMO No. 9553141, flying the Panamanian flag, we found a ‘yellow’ certificate again and a special agreement signed by the Greek trade union PNO on behalf of the ITF. And for some reason, according to that agreement, able seamen are paid $1,510 instead of prescribed $1,806. Yes, it is much better than in the Cypriot case, but still $300 less than provided for in the ITF policy”, says Maksym Sliusarevskyi. “And the most curious fact is that this vessel is also in the ITF database as covered by proper collective bargaining agreement. Moreover, the ITF inspected this vessel twice in Scandinavia, in Pori port (Finland) on August 30, 2017 and in Oskarshamn port (Sweden) on November 9, 2017. We do not understand what is happening with the ITF. And it is regrettable that it is not a single case! We can talk about hundreds of vessels covered by an ITF-approved collective bargaining agreement, which ITF inspectors leave alone because those vessels are entered as covered in the database, whereas in fact there are substandard practices there”.

To return to the procedure for covering vessels with an ITF-approved collective bargaining agreement: a shipowner must fill in the so-called “16-point questionnaire” specifying complete details about the shipowner and the applying vessel and must send it to a local affiliated trade union. The questionnaire is then forwarded to the ITF head office in London together with the collective bargaining agreement form. Each case is carefully examined (in terms of whether seafarers have any complaints about the vessel and the shipowner, whether there are any outstanding wages, whether the collective bargaining agreement complies with the ITF policy, and so forth) and only after approval is granted, does the shipowner receive the so-called “go-ahead”. In other words, there is a strict procedure for coverage and entry of the vessel’s data into the ITF database. “I am 200% sure that a vessel cannot find its way into the database of vessels covered by ITF-approved collective bargaining agreementby mistake. The ITF must perform a thorough internal audit and publish its results in mass media. Otherwise, the reputation of this organization will be beyond saving”, says Maksym Sliusarevskyi.