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International Bargaining Forum

The International Bargaining Forum (IBF) is the forum that brings together the ITF and the international maritime employers that make up the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG).


In 1999, the ITF began to negotiate with the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), a group of ship owners and managers from around the world. Soon afterwards, another group of ship owners, the International Mariners Management Association of Japan (IMMAJ), also entered into dialogue with the ITF. Together, IMEC and IMMAJ form the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG). The JNG was formally established in 2003. It has since expanded to include the Korean Shipowners’ Association (KSA).

When the ITF gets together to negotiate with the JNG, the resulting group is called the International Bargaining Forum (IBF). The IBF has objectives and rules of procedure. IBF negotiations are separate from the discussions about the ITF benchmark and other ITF agreements.

How does the IBF operate?

Negotiations take place every two years for the IBF framework agreement. Once the framework agreement has been negotiated, ITF affiliated unions begin local negotiations with companies in their country. These local negotiations result in national and sometimes company level IBF agreements. While the entitlements may vary slightly, all IBF agreements must be within the IBF framework agreed for the period.

IBF agreements are only available to shipping companies that are members of the JNG and can only be signed by ITF affiliated unions.

The IBF has a disputes procedure to deal with any problems, for example regarding compliance with or interpretation of the agreements.


The IBF framework agreement incorporates three main elements: social, professional and financial.

  • Social elements deal with seafarers’ quality of life, including leave, access to telephone and email, duration of employment and medical cover for families.
  • Professional elements include sickness and injury pay, compensation, savings or provident funds, provisions for service in war zones, re-engagement after pregnancy, protection for abandoned seafarers, training, security and safe manning scales.
  • Financial elements include pay, employment stability, union development and access for ITF representatives to vessels.

These are some of the current features of the IBF agreement:

  • Company must pay all fees and visa costs prior to employment.
  • Protection for seafarers who respect dockworkers’ trade disputes, provided they are lawful.
  • In the event of death, company must pay burial costs.
  • Rest periods redefined in line with the ILO.
  • Riding gangs/temporary workers have more rights on board.