Freight by water

Coastal and inland waterways transportation (sometimes known as cabotage) has many advantages over moving freight by road and rail. Nautilus campaigns to ensure that national governments and European regulators support and promote the continued carrying of freight by water.

What this campaign is about

Across continental Europe there are more than 37,000km of inland waterways connecting hundreds of cities and many countries. The UK also has a small number of inland waterways still used for freight transportation, and coastal waters offer the potential for ‘motorways of the sea’.

Carrying freight by water is a competitive and environmentally friendly alternative to road and rail transport. It can also reduce congestion of the road network and has an impressive safety record.

Despite this, members working in the sector face problems well-known to workers in other sectors of the maritime industry – long working hours, a lack of training and development; and pressure on their jobs when workers are recruited from cheaper labour supplying countries at salaries below the living wage needed in Europe.

Many transport and logistics firms do not make full use of inland and coastal waterways, and government support for maintaining these waterways, especially in the UK, is at an all time low.

Within continental Europe, the inland navigation sector is struggling as a result of the global economic downturn, with a marked decline in the volumes of freight being carried on the Rhine and other major EU and European Economic Area (EEA) waterways. The sector is also suffering from over-capacity, which has pushed down freight rates.

What we want to achieve

The Union believes that the carrying of freight by water needs to be protected and promoted across Europe, with a much higher proportion of goods transported this way. We want to enchance the jobs and skills of those working on the inland waterways and ensure that competition is fair, with no companies employing labour on salaries below the living wage of the countries they are operating in.

We are campaigning to encourage more use of existing freight waterways and for investment in them, especially through the EU and social partners project TEN-T.

Nautilus is seeking to increase union representation in the sector and to ensure that European Commission policies for the next five years provide support for the industry.

Nautilus is also working to ensure that proper training and certification, similar to STCW, is provided for inland waterways workers, ensuring that highly skilled and qualified boatmen can work across the European waterways.

What have we achieved so far

Nautilus has been lobbying governments in Europe to support the social partnership agreement on working time in the inland navigation sector. This agreement will regulate hours of rest and other working conditions in the sector but faces opposition from governments including the UK.

The Union, via the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), has produced a guide to ‘River Speak’ which provides boatmen who have to pass through a number of European countries with basic phrases to undertake their work in different languages.

What’s next

The Union will continue working through the ETF and social partners to bring in standard training outcomes for the sector (an approach considered more appropriate than a fully-prescribed curriculum). The harmonisation of boatmasters’ certificates is another major goal, meaning that a boatmaster’s certificate from any one European country would be valid across the continent.

Nautilus is also working with the Rhine Commission to investigate ways in which EEA countries can work towards greater harmonisation along the Rhine.

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