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Published: 19 September 2012      

Strike Club warns on US port strike

The Strike Club, the leading market for the provision of insurance protection against delays in the maritime trades, has warned that if the looming threat of a stevedores’ strike at 14 ports along the US east and Gulf coasts becomes a reality, it could be the precursor of further labour unrest.

And that unrest could spread beyond the US, with extremely damaging repercussions for shipowners and charterers and, indeed, for the world economy.

US seafarers have now joined forces with the stevedores under a new partnership, the Maritime Labour Alliance, which, according to media reports, has received a message of support from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF), the Strike Club said.

The imminent resumption of critical negotiations between employers and unions will involve a number of questions and demands which must be resolved before the end of this month when the current agreement expires.

Automation is a key issue. It was one of the original sticking points in the early negotiations and will again be high on the agenda. Ominously, the Strike Club said, the ITWF referred to “efforts to automate maritime workplaces.”

“There is a message here for the whole shipping industry,” said Bill Milligan, chief executive of SC Management. “We are now witnessing the start of a robotic revolution as robots get cheaper and better at doing things and this is leading to a big, long-term change in manufacturing processes.

“And this hi-tech revolution is spreading out from the factory floor to many other operations, including cargo handling and the way in which ports and terminals are equipped to operate - not to mention the spectre of the fully automated ship in the not too distant future.

“There are huge social implications in the coming transition as automation could lead to much higher long-term unemployment. This threat has been with us for some time, of course, but the volatile situation in the US ports dispute underlines the message that robotic automation is a game changer that cannot be ignored,” Milligan said.

The Strike Club, which currently insures some 4,000 ships for strikes and other delays, says its message is simple: Don’t wait for strikes to happen - strike first by ensuring that adequate insurance protection is in place.


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