ITF targets 'ports of convenience'

ITF targets 'ports of convenience'

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The International Transport Workers Federation is organizing a campaign against "self-handling" of cargo by seafarers, said Kees Marges, secretary of the ITF's dockers' unit.

Marges, who spoke at the convention of the International Longshoremen's Association, said cost-cutting shipowners and charterers are encouraging a system of "ports of convenience," where cargo is handled by seafarers or by low-paid casual labor. "If you allow one port to do that, it will be like a cancer that will spread," he said.

In Europe, the ITF is seeking to block or modify a proposed European Union directive that would liberalize port labor regulations. Marges said that as originally drafted, the proposed directive would encourage ports to cut costs by using cheaper labor.

He said that more than 20,000 port workers in Europe went on strike earlier this year to protest the proposed EU directive, which will be considered at an EU council meeting on Sept. 9. "The unrest in January was only a warm-up for our campaign against the destruction of secure employment in the docks," he said.

Marges said the use of seafarers to handle cargo has been reported in several ports in the U.S. and other nations. "It seems to be a new trend," he said.