We urgently need to ... help more yards, both in Europe and abroad, to recycle ships in a clean and safe manner.

Following the tragic death of two workers at the Simsekler ship recycling facility in Turkey, which resulted in the facility’s removal from the EU’s List of Ship Recycling Facilities, industriAll European Trade Union and IndustriALL Global Union have been in discussions with the European Commission as to how improve occupational health and safety standards in ship recycling yards across the globe, stressing that strong trade unions are essential to ensure good health and safety practices.

The global shipbreaking sector, part of the ship recycling process, is known for being extremely dangerous with precarious working conditions, poverty wages, little training and a lack of safety equipment and access to medical services, as highlighted in IndustriALL Global Union’s Special Report. Unfortunately, fatalities in this sector are not uncommon, and as well as the two previously mentioned incidents in Turkey, there are real concerns about working conditions in Bangladesh, with more than 20 serious accidents and six fatalities in 2022 so far. Trade unions call for urgent action to prevent accidents and improve working conditions in ship recycling yards across the world.

The EU has strict standards in place via the European Ship Recycling Regulation and the EU List of Ship Recycling Facilities, with European policy makers keen to use these tools to improve working conditions and increase the environmental standards of ship recycling facilities across the world. With both items currently under review, industriAll Europe and IndustriALL Global Union took the opportunity to respond to the consultations and meet with the European Commission to highlight the experience of workers on the ground and to insist that freedom of association, strong trade unions, and quality social dialogue are all needed to ensure that workers are safe at work. Trade unions can monitor compliance with regulations from the ground up, change the working practices of members, and challenge unsafe work.

The aims of the EU Ship Recycling Regulation to prevent, reduce and minimise accidents, injuries and other negative effects on human health and the environment during the shipbreaking/recycling process are supported by trade unions. The EU’s Regulation also aims to help ratify the International Maritime Organisation’s Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, of which IndustriALL Global Union has been a long-time supporter.

With the demand for ship recycling set to increase dramatically in the near future, and almost 90% of shipbreaking (gross tonnage) taking place in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, investment is needed to ensure that current global facilities are up to scratch. This should entail social partners and national authorities developing roadmaps to prepare for increased demand in ship recycling, while meeting all the criteria set out in the Hong Kong Convention and the EU’s Regulation.

Judith Kirton-Darling, Deputy General Secretary at industriAll Europe said:

“The removal of two Turkish ship recycling yards from the EU’s 10th review of the EU List of Ship Recycling Facilities is a failure for all the partners involved. We urgently need to improve the health and safety standards of these yards and help more yards, both in Europe and abroad, to recycle ships in a clean and safe manner. The circular economy plays an important role in a ship’s lifecycle, and we must fully utilise these precious secondary raw materials while also protecting workers at these sites.’’

Kan Matsuzaki, Assistant General Secretary, IndustriALL Global Union said:

“IndustriALL Global Union’s priority is for the Hong Kong Convention to come into force. The next year is critical for this. It will introduce a basic global standard for safe and environmentally sound ship recycling. The EU Regulations complement the Convention, and it’s important that workers’ voices are heard during the review process. Our vision is for a thriving industry that provides ship recycling to a high standard, with quality and safe union jobs. The key to success is a globally recognised minimum standard, plus social dialogue with unions.”