Mumbai: National seafarers body NUSI on Monday sought some welfare measures, including provision for gratuity, expediting the process for contributory annuity and priority in modes of travel, for the seamen community, saying it is also 'the second line of defence' in times of calamities and wars.
In a petition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, ahead of the 'International Day of Seafarers', the National Union of Seafarers (NUSI) said that the Union was putting forward these proposals on behalf of its members and urged the government to consider them. Every year, June 25 is celebrated as the 'International Day of Seafarers', globally.
"India is facing unprecedented challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic.We are aware that the government under your astute leadership, is taking all necessary steps to counter the pandemic, which has locked down the lands and the skies of the entire world. Everything is at a standstill.
"But the seas are busy with thousands of ships plying across the oceans loaded with cargo to keep our world moving. All this is possible only because of the hard work of the brave seafarers, the fearless working men and women on cargo ships and cruise ships," Abdulgani Y Serang, General Secretary-cum-Treasurer, NUSI said in its petition.
The copies of the petition have also been marked to Minister of State for Shipping Mansukh Mandaviya, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Santosh Kumar Gangwar and sector regulator, Director General of Shipping, Amitabh Kumar.
Stating that the seafarers already have statutory Provident Fund scheme, Serang said, "When the bill of the Seamens' Provident Fund Act, 1966, which was on the recommendations of the statutory National Welfare Board, was being tabled in Parliament, it was mentioned that gratuity for seafarers has been brought into force from June 1, 1964."
The gratuity is paid by the shipowners, though no formal legislation was enacted, and was left to the mechanism of collective bargaining, he said.
"While due diligence is taken in the collective bargaining process, not all seafarers get gratuity. Hence what did not happen in 1964 as formal legislation should now be enacted for gratuity as a retiral benefit to be paid by the shipowners," the petition stated.
The Seamen's Provident Fund office has procedures for pension for seafarers under the scope of Contributory Annuity Fund Scheme (CAFS) which is still under process for nearly two decades, it said. "The Government should have it expedited," the Union stated.
The merchant navy seafarers, who are declared essential workers, have to travel at very short notices nationally and internationally when they have to join and return from their ships, the union said, adding,"seafarers should be added to the priority list to make it easier for them to travel."
In addition to these, the NUSI has also proposed that the Government should provide "voting rights" to onboard seafarers during the General and state Assembly polls.
"If Non-Resident Indians can vote, the procedures should be enacted to ensure that seafarers who are away on high seas can also vote during the state and national elections," he said, adding, "NUSI interaction with the Election Commission on this matter was not positive."