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Seafarers’ threaten strikes to protect their interests

World Maritime Day

Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) under fire for shortchanging seafarers

Activist Frank Coles’ prior rallying for a strike to provoke some positive actions to benefit seafarers failed. When HMM’s team declared its decision for a real one laden with a threat to leave for Swiss competitor, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), it drove the point home on the severity of seafarers’ plights.

An appalling truth surfaced
A whopping 90 per cent of HMM’s seafarer union members have issued an ultimatum to the company. Their demands include a 25 per cent salary increment plus bonuses amounting to 1,200 per cent of their wages. Should HMM not accede to the demands, some 453 union members would be packing up and leaving for competitor, MSC.

HMM’s seafaring and shore-based staff reportedly expressed dissatisfaction over “a meagre” salary increment, despite the company’s record profits in 2020, from tight shipping capacity and logistics disruptions caused by COVID-19. Their grievance stemmed from an 8-year salary freeze. It was only lifted this year after HMM’s financial struggles culminated in a government bailout, when Korea Development Bank (KDB) swapped debt for equity in 2016.

HMM counter offered an 8 per cent increment, a bonus of 300 per cent of salaries and a productivity incentive equating to 200 per cent. The only wrench was KDB, (HMM’s largest shareholder) who was reluctant to oblige. An HMM representative said, “Negotiations between the management and the labour union are still under way. Both sides are having a continuing dialogue and still doing their best to reach a settlement.” MSC is said to be offering a salary 2.5 times what HMM is paying, equating to a monthly salary of $13,000-$14,000 to chief officers and a $5,000 for deckhands. Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) is now preparing for worst in case negotiations fall through.

What can shipowners learn from this?
Shipowners should be more aware of their team’s jobs inside-out, not to mention the numerous perils at sea. Seafarers deserve their rightful share of the rewards if the business reaped in profits, not denied under the pretext of bad market conditions and poor earnings. This is essentially one of the biggest contributors to manpower shortage. Just like any job seeker, no seafarer would allow themselves to be shortchanged if possible. If the worst happens, it is anybody’s guess how HMM will move forward with a tarnished reputation, plus a state-owned bank having a hand in it.


Crewing Online News Team
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