Get your politician onboard our freight by water campaign

Support our campaign to promote carrying freight by water as a competitive and environmentally friendly alternative to road and rail transport.

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.

The issues

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 huge potential for 'motorways of the sea'.

Carrying freight by water is a competitive and environmentally friendly alternative to road and rail transport. It can reduce congestion on the roads 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. They experience 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. Indeed, the proportion of domestic freight being moved on the UK's waterways and coastal waters has gone into reverse in recent years.

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 Nautilus is doing

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 enhance the jobs and skills of those working in coastal shipping and 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 freight to be moved by water and to make better use of existing waterways, especially through the EU and social partners' project TEN-T. We are also working to ensure that European Commission policies provide proper support for the industry – in particular to help investment in new and greener vessels. We have repeatedly presented the UK government with the case for policy initiatives to promote waterborne freight and to embrace the 'motorways of the sea' concept.

Nautilus is taking part in recruitment campaigns to increase union representation in the sector – to give workers a better voice and to organise against substandard working conditions in the sector.

Nautilus is also working to ensure that quality 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.

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.

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.

How you can help

Ask your elected representatives what they are doing to encourage freight to be moved on water. Ask your MEP to back the moves to improve working conditions and investment in EU inland navigation. And support the union's campaigns to increase membership in the sector.

Become a Nautilus member today