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Shipping in Pakistan

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Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal General Secretary PMNOA
Sep 27 - Oct 03, 1999

In early days of shipping slaves were chained to row the ships on the drums beat. By the passage of time developments were made and slaves were replaced by the seafarers to sailing ship. The early ships, however, were not propelled by engines and working conditions were inhuman.

In 1896, the European seafarers' and dockers' union leaders realised the need to organize internationally and the same year the ITF (International Transport Workers Federation) was formed in London. Today some 500 unions in more than 125 countries of the world are affiliated with the International Transport Workers' Federation, London.

The seafarers of the world are the first to realise that in this sector of transport, their common interest, hazards and perils of the sea, employment conditions, socio-economic problems even the entire life's episodes are similar in nature irrespective of race, colour, region and creed.

The Pakistan Merchant Navy Officers’ Association was the first local union to join TIF as an affiliate in 1962. Today there are 18 ITF affiliates in Pakistan from the transport sector.

Today, ITF is representing over 5 million trade union members in all areas of transport industry globally— railways, roads, rivers, shipping, ports, fishing, civil aviation and tourism. Nearly one million or 20 per cent of ITF memebship comprise seafarers and dockers.


The primary aims of the ITF comprise promoting respect for trade union and human rights worldwide, to work for peace based on social justice and economic progress and to help affiliated unions defend interests of their members. It also provides research and information services to affiliates and general assistance to transport workers in difficulty.

The most important rights of trade unions include the rights of workers to establish and join unions of their own choosing, the right of unions to conduct their affairs free from government interference and the right of unions to form federations and affiliate to international organisations. It also include the right to protection from acts of anti-union discrimination and protection from interference by employers in the functioning of unions.


Although at the time of its founding Conference in 1896, the ITF was purely an organisation of maritime workers, it soon opened its doors to include land based transport workers. Its membership reached around one million shortly before the outbreak of the First World War.

The special nature of the maritime industry, which is not under the authority of any single national government, makes violation of trade union rights by employers commonplace. The ITF's campaign against flags of convenience is a concrete example of its commitment to fight for workers' rights.


The ITF is unique amongst international trade union organisations in having a direct influence on wages and conditions of one particular group of workers: seafarers working on ships flying flags of convenience (Focs).

For nearly fifty years the ITF and its affiliated seafarers' and dockers' unions have been waging a vigorous campaign against shipowners who abandon the flag of their own country in search of the cheapest possible crews and lowest possible training and safety standards for their ships. The ability of shipowners to change the registration of their ship and the nationality of the seafarers on board whenever they wish makes it impossible for this exploitation to be stopped by the efforts of any one national trade union.

The ITF's campaign, which is conducted jointly by its seafarers' and dockers'' affiliates, has two main objectives. Firstly, to establish international governmental agreement a genuine link between the flag a ship flies and the nationality or domicile of its owners, managers and seafarers aimed at eliminating the flag of convenience system entirely. And secondly, to ensure that seafarers who serve on flag of convenience ships, irrespective of their nationality, are protected from exploitation by shipowners.

Local Scenario

At the time of independence Pakistan’s merchant marine fleet comprised of four small sized ocean going ships which increased to 14 in 1950 and reached 71 priuor to separation of East Pakistan in 1971. Today the national maritime fleet comprises 15 old vessels.

We feel that unless the affairs of merchant marine are entrusted to the trained, qualified and experienced professional technocrats of merchant marine it would not be impossible to streamline affairs in this most neglected sector of national economy.

Ever since the formation of PMNOA in 1951 the Association has successfully endeavoured its best to streamline affairs in merchant marine through national and international Press, seminars and television. It has made representations to the government of including Federal Anti-corruption Committee, Federal Investigation Agency, Ombudsman and Chief Ehtisab Commissioner.

PMNOA has been intstrumental in framing rules/regulations and improvements for certificate of competency examinations and training in Pakistan.

The Association provides support and cooperation to all its members towards redress of their day to day grievances and streamlining affairs in the merchant marine in the national interest.