INSA asks for tribunal to settle matter
Media reports suggest that the negotiations on the revision of Indian mariner wages are deadlocked because officials within the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) and the Forward Seamen's Union of India (FSUI) cannot come to an understanding as to who should represent seafarers. Industry insiders remember that the last wage agreement was only possible after Court intervention; the industry seems to be heading down an identical road this time around as well. “The one-upmanship by the unions has created an environment which is not conducive for wage negotiations," a representative of the ship owners told the Economic Times newspaper.
NUSI has meanwhile alleged, according to media reports, that shipowners are deliberately delaying a wage agreement for obvious reasons.
Analysts say that the two unions are at loggerheads because NUSI has a constitutional presence in the National Maritime Board (NMB), and claims to have the right to represent Indian mariners as a result of this provision. FSUI, however, strongly claims that no negotiations can take place without its direct involvement. To add to the confusion, FSUI has decided to go on a one day token strike on February 14 to protest the delay in the talks.
The negotiation team has met thrice with the Indian National Shipowners’ Association (INSA) under the aegis of the National Maritime Board, according to newspaper reports. However, there has been no traction on the issue of seafarer wages. In fact, the Ecotimes reports that INSA has recently written to the Ministry of Shipping asking that a tribunal be set up to resolve the matter. It is believed that both the NUSI and FSUI had initially agreed to the INSA adjudication proposal at a recent meeting, but they are now stonewalling on the proposal. The newspaper quotes an unnamed insider commenting on the meeting, “Not a single word on seafarers' wages was spoken at these meetings. The two representative unions could not see eye to eye and this has led to an impasse”.
FSUI is believed to have proposed to INSA that it is ready to accept an agreement provided that it is signed by representatives of both the unions. Furthermore, it (FSUI) demands that at the next wage agreement (2012-14), the Secretary of the seafarers side should be a FUSI member; this is likely to be a sticking point with NSUI, as the present Secretary comes from that union. FSUI obviously wants regular representation at these agreements and within negotiating teams, since it has mooted a rotation system for the Seafarer Secretary position, which it says should be held alternately by an official from NUSI or FSUI.
The impasse is likely to continue, industry watchers say, pointing out that the precedent set in the past will mean that any future negotiations will be subject to the same tensions. It is very likely, many say, that the present fracas will be settled by a tribunal. For the future, though, the matter of seafarer representation needs to be resolved once and for all so that the system is not victim to inordinate delays.