ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation)

ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation). This is an organisation which exists for the purpose of looking after the interests oΒ£ workers in transport jobs. There is a section dealing with seafarers’ pay and working conditions.

The ITF encourages shipowners to enter into an agreement with their crew to pay what the ITF considers are “fair wages”. If the shipowner agrees to do this he is said to have made an “ITF Standard Agreement” with his crew. When he does this he is issued by the ITF with a certificate of compliance with the ITF requirements. This is called an “ITF Blue Certificate” or “ITF Blue Card”, but the name has little to do with the colour.

Time charterers, particularly, but also voyage charterers, can insist on the insertion of a rider clause in a standard form charterparty imposing an obligation on the owner to obtain a “Blue Certificate”. They are aware that the ship can be delayed by union action in many ports if the master cannot provide this document because many unions, especially in the developed countries, are affiliated to the ITF and follow its directions concerning the poor working conditions of many seafarers, especially those employed on board open registry ships.

Such a clause can state:

“The Owners guarantee the employment of the Crew to be covered by ITF Agreement or bona-fide Trade Union Agreement accepted to the ITF for world-wide trading. In the event of the vessel being denied or restricted in the use of port and/or loading and/or discharging facilities or shore labour and/or tug or pilotage assistance or of any other restriction, detention or any loss of time whatsoever due to boycott or arrest of the vessel or due to ITF recommendations or union requirements all caused by the vessel’s flag and/or by reason of the terms and conditions on which members of the Crew are employed by reason of any trading of this or any other vessel under same ownership or operation or control, the payment of hire shall cease for the time thereby lost and all extra -expenses incurred due to above are to be debited to the Owners.”

Clearly, this is a very burdensome clause but it is commonly used by charterers for commercial reasons, to avoid the delay that can result from a ship’s being boycotted or “blacklisted” by unions interested in preventing shipowners from taking unfair advantage of their crews. The experience of shipbrokers engaged in negotiations for charters can be to find that a charterer agrees to all terms of a charterparty subject to details and one of the details is the above “guarantee”. Because the clause is so important and has so many consequences the “detail” could be considered as one of the “main terms”, failing agreement on which there is no binding or enforceable contract or charter under both English and American legal systems.

However, although under a time charter the ship must be “in every way fitted for ordinary (cargo) service”-and this has been discussed above-such fitness has little to do with compliance with ITF requirements. In The Derby, 1984, the English courts decided that the obligation on the shipowner did not extend to the ship’s possessing an ITF “blue certificate.”

The ship was under a Cypriot flag. It had a crew from the Philippines employed under a crew agreement that was acceptable to the crew but was far below the ITF standards. In the NYPE charterparty the ship’s trading limits excluded countries in which it was known the unions were affiliated to the ITF and could take delaying action against the ship. Portugal was not on the list of excluded countries.

When the ship called at Leixoes in Portugal, an ITF representative discovered that the ship did not possess a “blue certificate”; as a result the stevedores refused to handle cargo from the ship. The owners had to come to an agreement with the ITF but this caused 21 days’ delay. The owners admitted being off hire for this period but the charterers had lost the benefit of a sub-charter and claimed damages the owners because the ship was not “… fitted for ordinary service . . .” The charterers were not successful in their claim because the courts decided that although the ship had to be provided with all necessary documents, the ITF “blue certificate” was not such a document affecting “seaworthiness”. The courts also held that there was no evidence that it was customary for owners to obtain such a certificate. This was surprising because of the widespread acknowledgement that the ITF can cause problems for unfair owners and the charterers impose an obligation on the owners to treat their crews fairly.


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