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The Role of Unions in the Maritime Industry

In many workplaces, fewer people consider trade union membership to be an essential part of their employment. Is the same true in the maritime world, however? Danny McGowan, senior assistant organiser at Nautilus International would say that it is not.

For years trade unions have seen a decline in their membership in a wide range of industries - most noticeably in the public sector – but in private industry, including the maritime world, the number of employees joining trade unions since 2010 has increased by nearly a quarter of a million. Some of that shift is attributable to the decline in public sector employment, but a lot of it is thanks to a simple fact – working in a unionised area can increase your earnings by nearly 10%.

The Role of Unions in the Maritime Industry

Working at sea – whether you are on a cruise ship or large yacht, a container ship, naval auxiliary vessel, tanker or a ferry, for example – earnings are a big part of your employment. But that is not the only thing that Nautilus International and other trade unions assist with. Your safety, welfare and the success and development of your career is of equal importance.

Nautilus International played a major part in creating the Maritime Labour Convention, and members can benefit from the added protection and advice that their union can provide them with thanks to this important development. Our officials regularly visit the International Maritime Organisation and International Labour Organisation – both agencies of the United Nations – to ensure that the rights of seafarers continue to be represented.

Nautilus International

Working on board a vessel of any size is a unique environment. Coupled with being away from home for weeks or months at a time things can get tough. That is why Nautilus International provides its members with dedicated advice on bullying and harassment. While neither topic is peculiar to the maritime industry, the unique working environment can cause even the smallest of issues to escalate rapidly. With our Protect and Respect guide and the expertise of Union representatives and Union officials, seafarers can help to make life at sea more comfortable for everyone.

As with any job, sometimes things can go wrong and you might be called to a meeting with management. Union members can often take a representative or official with them to these meetings for advice and support. If things progress, Nautilus International members have access to legal advice. If you have a certificate of competency then you can also access financial protection against loss of income if the certificate is suspended, downgraded or cancelled as part of a formal inquiry.

Nautilus International supports the ongoing success of the maritime industry and strives for opportunities for seafarers to develop their skills and build life long careers. Employers and crewing agencies benefit from a skilled and loyal workforce and therefore benefit from promoting trade union membership amongst their employees. Some of the largest cruise lines and shipping companies in the world continue to maintain collective bargaining agreements with Nautilus International to ensure that the companies and the Union have a framework around which they can negotiate together.

As parts of the Maritime Labour Convention develop, and as more countries ratify the document, trade unions will continue to play a vital role in ensuring the success of seafarers' careers and the fair development of the maritime economy. Whether you are starting your career or have been at sea for years, make sure you join a union today to help shape and influence your future.

If you would like more information about this article, or would like to become a member of Nautilus International, please contact or phone +44 (0)151 639 8454