Better terms on the way for Indians

INDIAN seamen working for foreign shipping companies are to get higher pay and better service conditions.

This follows the first national level negotiations held in Bombay recently between the seamen's unions and representatives of foreign shipping companies.

The talks resulted in agreements in respect of both officers and ratings.

The new two-year pact for ratings, which will come into force on January 1, provides for a 10 per cent increase in monthly wages.

The monthly pay for a benchmark able seaman will be roughly US$1,100. The benchmark master's pay will rise from $2,950 to about $3,100.

The officers' pay package has been sent to the industry's Fair Practices Committee for ratification, and is expected to be settled shortly.

Until now, the unions have followed the guidelines issued by the London-based International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) in fixing the wages for Indian seafarers.

It was the first time that representatives of ITF and the International Maritime Employers Committee (representing foreign ship-owners) had come to India as observers at the national-level negotiations.

The talks were held by the newly established bipartite wage negotiating body - Maritime Board of Foreign Employers (India).

The board consists of the Foreign Owners and Ship Managers Association, the Maritime Association of Ship Owners, Ship Managers and Agents, representing both foreign ship-owners and the Maritime Union of India, as well as the National Union of Seafarers in India.

The agreements cover about 85 per cent of the estimated 15,000 Indian seafarers (9,000 officers and 6,000 ratings) employed on foreign ships.

About 60 per cent of the trained Indian seafarers are employed on foreign ships. It is estimated that they collectively earn more than $110 million for India in foreign exchange.

The agreements are significant in the context of a recent marginal drop in the number of Indian seamen employed on foreign vessels because of growing competition from Russian and Filipino crews.

Ship managers say that Indian officers will continue to be in demand, as they are preferred to officers from other Asian countries.

Foreign ship-owners, along with their Indian counterparts, finance the training of seamen in India.

Japan and Norway have offered technical and financial assistance to upgrade training facilities in India.

Japan, which gave last year gave India money to acquire three ship manoeuvring simulators, has also shown interest in having a technical co-operation agreement with India in the field of maritime training.

The Japanese Government has invited an Indian delegation, led by R. Vasudevan, director-general of shipping, to visit Japanese maritime training institutions.

Norway has offered to set up an institute to train Indian seamen exclusively for employment on Norwegian ships.