The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) greets all Filipino seafarers as they celebrated International Seafarers’ Day on June 25, 2023. Through its affiliate, the Associated Philippine Seafarers’ Union (APSU), TUCP advocates for a JUST TRANSITION policy with shipowners, employers, and Government to save the jobs of our nearly 500,000 seafarers, and ensure that Filipino seafarers remain the preferred international hire. Seafarers’ jobs will be affected by the coming fourth industrial revolution in maritime fuels and networked digital information systems, part of the maritime industry’s committment to decarbonization in response to the threat of climate change.
TUCP proposes that shipowners, employers, and Government provide the appropriate policy and program support for the continuing education and upskilling of our seafarers, that they may retain their jobs or transition to suitable positions, amidst disruptions brought about by the 4th industrial revolution or Industry 4.0.
TUCP specifically proposes the following agenda for a JUST TRANSITION:
- The maritime industry must reach a consensus on future fuel standards, to begin aligning approaches in retraining seafarers and identify potential new seafarer career opportunities, both on-board and shore-based.
- Shipowners and employers must provide more opportunities for upskill training as an incentive for working and advancing in their organizations and to address a potential digital-skills gap at deployment.
- Establish a State industrial policy to develop Manila as a international deployment hub, which should include education policy prioritizing investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, to match massive investments in infrastructure. This will result in a bigger pool of highly-skilled future workers, including seafarers of the future, fulfilling on-board and shore-based duties.
Ships transport 80-90% of global trade. Exports and imports will likely double by 2050, but as most ships run on bunker fuel, the urgent need to decarbonize the maritime industry limits any future growth. As its contribution to limit global warming to 1.50C, the maritime industry remains committed to curbing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2008 levels by 2050, or do better by achieving net zero carbon emissions by then.
Meeting that committment requires innovation in fuel systems: a fourth industrial revolution is underway, shifting from conventional fuels to low-carbon and (eventually) zero-carbon fuels. Innovations will require massive retraining, as each of these fuel systems present occupational health and environmental hazards to seafarers and communities alike. However, the entire industry has yet to reach a consensus on future fuel standards and approaches in retraining, which will be massive – around 300-800,000 seafarers worldwide will need to retrain by 2050.
Industry 4.0’s digital information and automation systems will increase productivity while reducing environmental impact. But as with previous industrial revolutions, innovations will likely cause massive job losses even as they create new jobs. Hence, the need for trade unions to negotiate a just transition for seafarers in a decarbonized future for the maritime industry.
However, as the trend of employment flexibilization gradually shifted the responsibility for training from companies to seafarers, upgrading skills now require a costlier personal investment of seafarers in their training, to ensure their continued employment and career advancement. As upskilling opportunities may be unavailable on board or be too expensive for seafarers to undertake on their own, a skills-retention problem may result, leading to a skills gap at deployment. Higher training costs also lead to unequal opportunities, between seafarers who can afford training and those lacking the resources. The maritime industry must also create new career pathways for shore-based opportunities, even careers beyond seafaring, as Industry 4.0’s efficiencies lead to crew reductions and shorter on-board careers.
This is how trade unions like APSU work best for the interests of the maritime industry: negotating with employers, shipowners, and Government for a just transition for seafarers that is inclusive and fair to all social partners, creates decent work opportunities, and is sustainable in the long run.
TUCP continues to campaign for job creation, seafarer career development, and expanding Manila’s maritime industry to become an international deployment hub. Any plan to develop Manila into an international deployment hub must include prioritizing STEM education in national development and education policy, to match investments in infrastructure. Its success is premised on ensuring sufficient public and private investment in both basic and specialized maritime higher education and training, to result in a bigger pool of digitally-skilled seafarers of the future, fulfilling on-board and shore-based duties, as the industry will need.