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European owners hit out at new container lashing directive

European short-sea and feeder ship operators are challenging efforts by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to redefine container lashing as a cargo handling activity in order to bring it under the control of unionised dockers.

The redefinition, for which ITF is seeking acceptance at a growing number of European ports, will mean that shore-based workers undertake shipboard container lashing under the supervision of the ship master, where this has previously been a duty performed by the crew.

Six European short-sea and feeder lines, all operating ships of under 170 m in length, say the change is legally unenforceable, restricts competition for lashing activities, will bring extra costs and delays in container loading/discharge, and could persuade shippers to switch to more polluting road transport. Union suggestions that lashing done by dockers is safer are baseless, the lines claim.

“Fully trained ship crews at many European ports routinely undertake container lashing, working within strict safety guidelines,” said Patrick van de Ven, founding partner of Venturn, a maritime and logistics consultancy firm based in Rotterdam. “They are familiar with the ship and its cargo securing manuals, and have a vested interest in ensuring that cargo is safely secured on the vessel they live on.”

The amended Dockers’ Clause is the result of a five-year ITF campaign on “reclaiming lashing for dockworkers” which became part of a recent International Bargaining Forum (IBF) agreement between an International Maritime Employment Council (IMEC) negotiating group and the ITF. The Dockers’ Clause applies to IMEC-member crewing agents starting tomorrow.

The owner group is arguing that shortsea and feeder views were not fully represented by negotiators. The group has sought advice to challenge the legality of the amended Dockers’ Clause under EU law.

According to the text of the new Dockers’ Clause, if dockers aren’t available to lash containers the ITF will still require crewing agencies to seek the permission of dock unions to do the work and prove that individual seafarers have volunteered.

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