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Photo of Singapore Port at Tanjong Pagar from Shutterstock

International Longshoremen’s Association launches boycott of congress in Singapore due to ITF’s endorsement of fully automated maritime terminals

Following the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF)'s plans to sign an agreement with the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute of Singapore's National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) that endorses the use of fully automated maritime terminals, the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) has released a statement announcing its boycott of the 44th Congress, which will be held in Singapore starting Sunday (14 Oct).

ILA president Harold J. Daggett declared that his association will not be sending delegates to the ITF Congress as a result.

Mr Daggett said: “We just learned through an ITF press release sent out with great fanfare that the they were agreeing to a so-called study by the Singapore Leadership Institute to examine how best transport workers, including Dockers, quote ‘be ready for the huge changes that are coming in their sector, and this means their unions must be prepared to shape that change.

“This is a disgrace that a labor organization like the ITF, that represents 670 affiliate trade unions in 140 countries, representing 19.7 million workers would surrender so easily.”

Previously, Mr Daggett, as the Chief Negotiator on behalf of the ILA, had managed to sign "a landmark six-year Master Contract Agreement" with the United States' Maritime Alliance (USMX) that prohibits fully automated ports, as well as fully automated equipment and semi-automated terminals from being built at any ILA port on the Atlantic and Gulf Coast.

Mr Daggett added in protest: “If Brother [Stephen] Cotton [ITF's general secretary] and the ITF agree to a study, they are basically saying that we cannot stop fully automated terminals.

“[...] the ILA proved you can stop it and protect members’ jobs, which is what the ITF should be doing, and has failed at doing, by agreeing to this study.

“I’m calling on all U.S. Maritime Unions and all world-wide Dockers’ unions affiliated with the International Dockers’ Council (IDC) to condemn and reject the ITF for taking this defeatist position that will spell the end of longshore jobs within 10 years,” urged Mr Daggett.

Rebutting the stance of certain unions that suggest that automation is inevitable, Mr Daggett argued: “In our negotiations with USMX, we convinced our employers that human labor can out-perform automated equipment.

“We fought long and hard in negotiations to win this important issue. You’re taking about members’ lives here and their families. I am furious at the ITF leadership for not making the same effort.”

The ILA also warned against the implementation of automaton in lieu of human workers and its consequences against workers and trade unions: "In countries where the government has interfered with collective bargaining agreements, memberships have been destroyed.

"Through oppressive regimes and yellow unions, workers’ rights have been stripped. It is no coincidence that automation has flourished in areas where members’ rights are crushed."

The association, in its statement, had also expressed its concern regarding certain trade unions in Singapore, suggesting that such are "puppets of a restrictive government undermining democracy and freedom to organize."

Citing the example of Singapore port operator PSA Singapore, the ILA pointed at the port operator's exhibition held earlier this year "touting its “advanced port technologies,” including data analytics, robotics, amphibious drones, automated quay cranes, exoskeletons for port staff and robotic arms for related container activities."

“This is the environment in Singapore – eliminate the worker with more automation – and here you have our world-wide labor organization, the ITF, coming here and signing agreements that mean the destruction of decent paying jobs,” said Mr Daggett.

He proposed an alternative to automation: “Instead of signing agreements for Automation studies, we should start an organization and campaign around the world involving all unions to fight for our rights and the future to all unions to protect our jobs and come together as a brotherhood.

Mr Daggett concluded with a warning: “Automation will spell the death of unions everywhere,” and that “it’s time for workers everywhere to declare war on automation.”