Inside the Issues

Riding Gangs


*Do riding squards have rights?
*Photo: Steven Bruijneel,

The work of seafarers has been casualised through the increasing employment of ‘riding squads’: gangs of workers – not seafarers – brought on board as additional labour. 

Although originally specialist workers brought in as and when the need arose, riding gangs are increasingly used to do a wide range of work: repair and maintenance of electrical, mechanical, radio and navigational equipment; cleaning and painting; cargo handling; security; and mooring.

Why does casual working undermine seafarers?

The casual workers employed in riding squads are not covered by collective agreements on pay rates or conditions of work. They do not need to be declared medically fit to work on board, and they do not need to be trained in emergency procedures.

Now there is growing evidence that riding gangs are becoming attached to ships permanently, rather than short term, and are in fact carrying out seafarers' duties.

The employment of riding squad workers can undermine and undercut agreed pay rates and terms of work for seafarers. And although they are casual labourers, some states now count riding gang workers as part of the ship's crew for minimum safe crewing levels. The employment of unchecked and unregistered workers can also undermine the ship's security under the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code. For more information on this, please see the link on the right of this page.

Do riding squad workers have rights?

Although riding gang workers are employed outside of collective agreements, ITF believes they need protection of their rights when they work on board.  

ITF guidelines on riding squads suggest that:
  • All riding squads must be covered by agreements giving at least comparable rates of pay to the crew, and minimum conditions and protections within the appropriate International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and recommendations
  • The introduction of riding squads should not be used to replace current crew or be used to permanently undermine ITF agreements
  • The maximum period a riding squad should operate on board a vessel is one month in any 12-month period

What is ITF policy on riding squads?

ITF policy on riding squads was adopted in 2005 and can be seen in detail suing the link on the right of this page. It condemns the practice of reducing the permanent crew on vessels by the extensive use of riding squads, and calls for:
  • All workers on board a vessel to have an agreement that complies with ILO minimum pay rates and does not undermine the agreement of the ship's crew
  • Conditions for riding gangs to conform to the ILO policy on the need for an acceptable work environment and safe and decent working conditions
  • Sufficient crew permanently on board to ensure normal security requirements, as specified under the ISPS code