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  • Rough seas for South African seafarers in the merchant navy:the global is the local
  • Shaun Ruggunan (bio)

The labour market for seafarers is not an occupationally homogeneous one. It is two-tiered - the first consisting of officers and the second of ratings. Officers are the senior, tertiary-educated crew members, with the most senior being the captain or master of the ship. Ratings on the other hand are the 'working class of the seas', firmly situated at the lower end of the crewing hierarchy and labour market. This occupational differentiation of seafarers contributes to new patterns of inequality in the global and local labour markets for seafarers with regard to their recruitment, wages and working conditions.

Further, the operation of merchant navy vessels necessitates ships being crewed with more ratings than officers. Ratings are therefore the highest labour cost for shipowners. These occupational categories have implications for the way in which the labour markets for seafarers operate. Ratings, as the highest cost factor as well as being low-skilled, are recruited from outside the traditional maritime nations (TMN). Countries such as the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Russia, Poland and North and South Korea are the new ratings supply sources. These ratings are largely not unionised and work for a far lower income than their TMN counterparts. Officers, on the other hand, are not subject to the low wages and job insecurity that characterise ratings employment. Officers are highly sought-after in the labour market for seafarers. Currently there is a shortage of officers and a surplus of ratings in the global labour market, a situation that further exacerbates the divide between them (BIMCO/ISF Report: 2001). According to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), there are currently 1,600 South African seafarers (ratings) employed in the South African merchant [End Page 66] navy. Exact figures are difficult to determine since a register of seafarers does not exist in South Africa.1

Trends in the global labour market for seafarers

Between 1975 and 1982, the international labour market for seafarers was restructured beyond recognition. The scale and pace of this change was unparalleled in the modern industrial world (ILO Report 2001:31), and nothing short of phenomenal in its creation of new labour markets for seafarers. It is one of the most significant events in labour-market restructuring since the first industrial revolution.

It is essential to understand the nature of the global labour market for seafarers prior to 1975, and how it shifted thereafter, to appreciate the significance of the changes. The shift in labour market hiring practices of mainly European-owned shipping companies in such a short time span can best be described as staggering. The new labour supply countries are not only restricted to the Philippines, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea and China but include countries of eastern Europe. These have become the new labour-supply capitals of the shipping industry. The displaced merchant navy crews were all from the TMN of Europe (Brownrigg et al 2001). While historically some of the new labour-supply countries such as India and Pakistan had crewed European merchant navy vessels, the majority of the new labour-supply countries, such as the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Poland are relatively new for European shipping (Northrup and Rowan 1983).2

In just over a decade the labour market for seafarers in the merchant navy had fundamentally altered. Not only were south-east Asian seafarers replacing crews from the TMN of Europe, but seafarers from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Republic of Korea were also replacing the crews of Japanese-owned ships. By 1988 over 50,000 Koreans worked on Japanese-owned ships, displacing thousands of Japanese seafarers (ILO Report 2001:29). By 1986 (ILO Report 2001:29), the number of Filipino seafarers employed on European merchant ships was 2,900. By the end of 1987 that figure had grown exponentially to 17,057. Translated into crewing practices, this meant that the number of European-owned ships with a substantial Filipino crew component went from 200 to 1,130 in just 12 months. By 1995, the number of employed Filipinos...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1726-1368
Print ISSN
0258-7696
Pages
pp. 66-80
Launched on MUSE
2005-11-16
Open Access
No
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