Turkish government will not listen to anyone with regard to its embargo on Cyprus, says ITF General Secretary

The issue of the Turkish embargo on Cyprus shipping is very important, Stephen Cotton, the International Transport Worker’s Federation (ITF) General Secretary says, but notes that the political situation in Turkey has worsened compared to the one prevailing a couple of years ago, when the ITF tried to do something about it. The Turkish government won’t listen to anyone, he says.

In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), Cotton notes that the question of the boycott of Cyprus-flagged vessels in Turkish ports is very important. Asked what does the ITF do for the Turkish embargo to be lifted, he says that the Federation has written to the Turkish government for consideration, but didn’t’ get a reply. Our position remains the same, we support the Cypriots on free movement of their ships in and out of Turkish ports. But my personal view is that the situation is now worse than it was when we wrote a couple of years back because the Turkish government won’t listen to anybody.

He then notes Turkey’s agreement with the EU on refugees and migrants, pointing out that it gives Turkey more leverage in any global conversation, as they are the ones with the biggest number of refugees. If I speak to normal Turkish workers many of them believe that with so many refugees there’s a heightened security risk linked to terrorism so they would say it’s ok to give the government more power, so it’s a very delicate political situation. Turkey is more of a significant problem for the world now, he believes.

The ITF General Secretary notes that Cyprus has become a very strong shipping, banking, and insurance hub.

What’s good about Cyprus: hard-working people, stable governance, good laws, compared to a global situation at the moment, which is perhaps more unstable than we ‘ve seen for many decades, from a political perspective, Cotton says, noting the unpredictability of President Trump, the Brexit situation and the Greek situation in the EU, the difference between growth in Germany and serious economic challenges in Greece, the growth of Russia, the power of their infrastructure and the size of their economic market and the clear position of the Chinese government that they want to be the economic power in Asia and their One Belt One Road methodology.

He also notes Cyprus’ relations with the Middle East and its Arab neighbours, but also with Israel, and adds that despite the situation with Turkey, it has been a credible partner.

Cotton stresses that over the last 20 year incredible efforts have been made by the Cypriot Governments, the shipowners and the unions, to tidy up the Register of Cyprus Ships and the Ministry of Transport started to invest considerable money into inspections.

At the same time, he says that the Cypriot national agreement for both the Cypriot workforce in the shore side and the international workforce on the ships is in line with the Maritime Labour Convention and includes clauses that reflect the ITF standard, which is higher than the Maritime Labour Convention and wages that reflect the ITF’s recommendation. As a result of good relations with the Shipowners Association, he says, we are able to make good settlements. They are pragmatic in the market at the time, but also ensure that ships remain with international union coverage which gives the seafarers a good protection in what is quite a challenging industry.

Asked about the challenges the international transport sector and the workers faces, the ITF General Secretary says that there’s the question of power and influence. One answer is what does the future of trade unions look like he says, noting that since the crash of 2008 we see more aggressive neoliberal positions.

He firmly believes that the ITF has to be the voice of the national unions at the international level. So that’s a question of how do we respond to the growth of multinationals and their economic power, sometimes more powerful than governments.

Secondly, there’s technology and its impact on the transport sector, he says, but it’s very difficult to separate the two because without power you are not able to influence or define the workers’ voice.

Cotton advocates the Unions should be sticking to the simple issues, become stronger on the ground and calls for more space for women and the young people under 35 in the Cypriot labour movement. We see certainly in Europe that because of the 2008 crash and the austerity measures and then the lack of investment in certain areas, a degree of disenfranchisement, disengagement, by young people in the society he notes. We have to allow some transition to be more attractive to young people, our communications, what’s our narrative, what do we stand for, things that appeal to a 55 – year old man are different from those that appeal to a 22 – year old woman. And we have to be smarter and more engaged with the different dynamics. We have to have sufficient flexibility in our outlook and vision, to make sure there’s space for all those kinds of people.

The young people aren’t the future, they are the today, he says, pointing out we have to make sure they are in and embedded and have the ability to influence the direction of unions, which may mean that the oldest generation of unionists may have to look at how they transfer some power, which is difficult in all organisations but we have to be ready to take that.

Source: Cyprus News Agency