A FEW hundred seafarers began an indefinite hunger strike at several ports across the country on Monday demanding pension and increase in minimum wages. In Mumbai, the group is protesting at outside the office of the director general (Shipping) in Kanjurmarg.
The protest has been organised by the Forward Seaman’s Union of India (FSUI), which has sought an increase in the minimum wages paid to serving seafarers and pension for retired sailors. The protesters also included a large number of women whose seafarer husbands have passed away and are demanding pension from the Union government.
In a memorandum submitted to the DG (Shipping), FSUI general secretary Naresh Birwadkar said: “The Seamen Employment Office is closed and the selection (of seamen) is left open for the employers, resulting in (payment of) bribes, before and even after employment, becoming the order of the day.”
“Our chief demand is the implementation of the ILO/MLC (International Labor Organization/ Maritime Labour Convention) international requirement of minimum wage. ILO/MLC sets the minimum wage at $ 614 per month. However, private shipping companies only pay $ 105 per month. Further, retired seamen who have given over 40 years to the industry get no pension,” said seaman Akshay Birwadkar (29).
“In 2016, we had also staged a hunger strike that resulted in the union meeting with the Shipping DG. But there was no movement over our demands. This time we will not give up our strike until they listen to our demands,” he added.
The FSUI has circulated various memoranda to the Union Shipping Ministry, and after receiving no response, gave the DG (Shipping) a month-and-a-half’s notice before beginning the hunger strike.
In addition to the imposition of minimum wage and monthly pension of Rs 5,000, the protesters have also demanded family medical insurance, gainful employment of trainee seamen to reduce unemployment and travel concessions for retired seafarers.
However, an official at the DG (Shipping) office said that FSUI is not recognised by the central government as an union and its demand to increase wages is not practical. “Indian shipping companies will not be able to pay the wages that the union has demanded. As far as pension is concerned, the Union government has no existing pension scheme for retired sailors,” said the official.