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Russian crews beat ITF/SUR, Wallem either with seamen or against the law



Russian crews of four handy bulk carriers, which trade mainly in Far Eastern waters, won in a conflict with Seafarers’ Union of Russia (SUR), an affiliate of ITF. The crews were backed by a shipowner after they strongly rejected the deduction of 2% from their gross salaries in favour of SUR, against their will and the fact, that they are not, and don’t want to be, the members of SUR.


Wallem management company sent a circular to all vessels with Russian crews it operates, informing them, that:
In compliance with the provisions of the present CBA between the Seafarers' Union of Russia and the Company covering all Russian seafarers on board your vessels, please be advised that we are compelled to collect monthly Membership dues of 2% of total gross wages from ALL our Russian seafarers and remit this to SUR. So far the Company have been able to postpone these deductions but unfortunately this is no longer possible. Therefore - due to commitments in the CBA we will have to start the deductions from 1st January 2013.

The crews applied to a shipowner and asked him to protect them from the SUR “deductions”, or in plain words, from the Unionists’ extortion. All four crews of m/v AINO DAKE; m/v KITA DAKEl; m/v MAE DAKE and m/v NOTORI DAKE were unanimous:
MV ***:
1. CREW - 22 PRSNS INCLUDING MASTER
2. CREW ATTITUDE TO SUR DEDUCTIONS - NEGATIVE
3. MEMBERS OF SUR - NIL
4. CREW MEMBERS INTERESTED TO ENTER SUR MEMBERSHIP - NIL
Best Regards,
Capt.***

The shipowner flatly refused, on behalf of the crews of his vessels, to pay anything at all to SUR and ITF, even under the so-called SSD agreement:
I've checked with all our ship staff whether someone has desire to join SUR. Result is negative. This is sufficient for not to pay for these gentlemen. If any crew member will go to the court, he will obviously win. The CBA which you signed is completely in breach with United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.
Therefore I suggest to ignore these gentlemen at all. Please do not pay nothing and you may say that crew refused to join SUR and ship owner also has no any plans and include very big increase in our budget 2013.
As alternative we may consider to join another unions like Cyprus (Sinano is registered Cyprus Company) or Maltese Union (flag).
Russia ratified ILO Convention 87 and 97. So if the Company will force seafarer to join either SUR or any other Trade Union it would mean that Company breaks the Law of Russian Federation. We will follow the Law.
So, please : a) ignore SUR at all b) if their steps became troublesome, please advise that unfortunately all crew members refused to join SUR and ship owner is having very negative stance to this idea c) you may send them abstract from below ILO Convention. Also SUR may send their representative on board and let him have a talk with crew d) you may advise them my contact details and let SUR call me for discussions.
Among the rights contained in the declaration are the right to form and join trade unions - establishing trade union rights as human rights - as well as other worker rights, such as free choice of employment, equal pay for equal work, paid holidays and reasonable working hours.

As it came out, there are no rules or laws in Russia which demand Russian seamen, working abroad, to be members of the SUR, so any management company, which has an agreement with ITF/SUR,  will violate the law if it tries to forcefully deduct 2% “membership fee” in favour of ITF/SUR from Russian seamen.
Crews are afraid of possible ITF/SUR reprisals against vessels and crews, with a high probability of such an outcome, knowing the methods ITF/SUR employ. I’ve received a letter from a person who has had a clash with SUR inspectors in Nakhodka port in November. He was bluntly told that the crews will pay 2% of gross salary as a “fee’, “whether somebody likes it or not, it doesn’t matter”.

P.S.
I’m strongly opposed to the activities of ITF and affiliated Unions, first of all SUR, of course. SUR tried to fight me in public, we’ve been engaged in rather hot polemics for quite a time, but I predicted, that the SUR ( will restrain from public discussion with me, sooner or later. Well, after I made public the story described above, SUR again, returned (as many other organizations and industry media) to practice of ignoring me personally, fighting instead with a shadow or phantom – you know how it sounds: “notwithstanding what some self-proclaimed experts say… one self-proclaimed expert as usual, is sniveling about the poor shipowners…”. I like to be a phantom, though, it’s fun. ITF/SUR understand all too well, that they have no chance in public, open discussion, and there is the risk that such polemics may draw attention of major media and general public, with very negative consequences for the Trade Unions. So it’s better to pretend there is no Maritime Bulletin.


Voytenko Mikhail
Dec 13

Previous article published Dec 3:

Several Russian crews being at sea, unanimously protested against what they consider an illegal deduction of 2% of their gross wages in favour of Seafarers’ Union of Russia, an affiliate of ITF. Crews asked ship owner to protect them from what they claim, is just an extortion. A letter was sent to Maritime Bulletin from one of those vessels, with the details of the story.
I was specially asked not to reveal, at least yet, the names of the vessels, of the management company and of the shipowners, as well as the names of the seamen who sent to me all the relevant correspondence. They’re afraid of possible repercussions, which may be inflicted on them by the Trade Unions in question, namely – International Transport Federation (ITF) and affiliated Seafarers' Union of Russia (SUR).

Management company sent a circular to all vessels with Russian crews it operates, informing them, that:

In compliance with the provisions of the present CBA between the Seafarers' Union of Russia and the Company covering all Russian seafarers on board your vessels, please be advised that we are compelled to collect monthly Membership dues of 2% of total gross wages from ALL our Russian seafarers and remit this to SUR. So far the Company have been able to postpone these deductions but unfortunately this is no longer possible. Therefore - due to commitments in the CBA we will have to start the deductions from 1st January 2013.

The crew asked me what’s all about, what are the stipulations of the CBA (and what the bloody “CBA” term means, anyway), and on what grounds the Company has to yield to SUR demand to collect Membership dues, providing that there are no SUR members on board, and no one expressed his will to become one.
I sent to them extras from the copy of one of the Special Agreements I have been provided with by the insiders:

SPECIAL AGREEMENT
For Crews on Flag of Convenience Ships
Membership Fees, Welfare Fund and Representation of Seafarers
§30
30.1 Subject to national legislation, all seafarers shall be members of an appropriate national trade union affiliated to the ITF. The Company undertakes not to engage seafarers who are not covered by the present agreement and recommend that all seafarers join the Union.
30.2 The Company shall arrange to pay in respect of each Seafarer the fees in accordance with the terms of the Union. The Company agrees to deduct from the seafarers’ wages the membership fees payable to the Union which are currently 2% (two per cent) of the gross wages per month for both Officers and Ratings and remit them to the Union. In case of seafarers are not permanent members of the Union the Company shall deduct 2% of gross wages and remit this amount to the Union.

The crew applied to a shipowner and asked him to protect them from the SUR “deductions”, or in plain words, from the Unionists’ extortion. Other crews joined them, sending to owner collective letters like this one:

MV ***:
1. CREW - 22 PRSNS INCLUDING MASTER
2. CREW ATTITUDE TO SUR DEDUCTIONS - NEGATIVE
3. MEMBERS OF SUR - NIL
4. CREW MEMBERS INTERESTED TO ENTER SUR MEMBERSHIP - NIL
Best Regards,
Capt.***

It was quite a surprise for everybody, including shipowner and me, to read in a Special Agreement, that “Subject to national legislation, all seafarers shall be members of an appropriate national trade union affiliated to the ITF”. To a public knowledge, there is no such law in Russia, or in any other country, with that. I’m publishing the questions to SUR on behalf of Russian crews who’re indignant about the Agreements made behind their backs, and about unashamed manner in which Unionists treat the seamen, while trumpeting themselves as the seafarers’ only protection.

1. The SUR is deducting 2% something, some kind of a levy, which is not even defined. 2% Membership fee is one thing, but what are the 2% deductions from the wages of those who are not SUR members, nor do they want to be ones? What is the legal status of such deductions?
2. Is there any law, international or national, which requires all the Russian seamen working abroad to be the members of the SUR as an appropriate national trade union affiliated to the ITF? Is the SUR Membership the necessary condition for all the Russian seamen willing to work on board of foreign-flagged vessels?
3. If there no such law, on what legal grounds does SUR deduct 2% of gross wages from ALL Russian seamen, be they members of the SUR or not? How does it stand with the international and national laws? Are those deductions punishable, or are they equaled to force majeure?
4. On what grounds does the SUR sign the Agreements with foreign companies, with the stipulations forced upon all Russian citizen without their knowing:
a) not to employ Russian seamen who are not SUR members;
b) to deduct 2% of gross wage from all the citizen of Russia working in the Company, notwithstanding their membership status.
5. Shouldn’t such actions of the SUR and ITF be considered as anything less than the serious violation of the international and national laws, and the basic human rights and freedoms?

I have little doubt that the above listed questions will go unanswered. But that’s what Maritime Bulletin is generally, all about – an attempt to break the walls of silence and uncontrollableness, which are surrounding the untouchables – the leading maritime organizations. Including IMO, the Round Table and ITF with affiliates. That’s all, in fact, what all the industry media should be about.

Voytenko Mikhail
Dec 3 2012



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