Hailing from Kashmir, Talat Butt arrived Sweden in 1997 to work cruising ship M/S Baltic Star. His father, Rauf Butt, was already working on the ship since 1985.

At the time, the ship carried Panama’s flag. The crew-members not having Swedish citizenship, were granted permits to stay in Stockholm when the boat was anchored in the town. These migrant workers did neither need nor granted Swedish work permits since the boat was registered in Panama. There were 24 such workers, hailing from Kashmir and Pakistan.

The working conditions for these migrant workers were appalling:  they worked 13-14 hours a day, seven days a week. After 11 months of work, they had five-week break. However, it was not a paid holiday. These workers would draw, at average, SEK 7000 a month. In contrast, their Swedish counterparts would enjoy paid holidays and their jobs would comply by Swedish labour laws.

 This situation was aggravated by the fact that these workers from Kashmir and Pakistan were not aware of their own rights.

For instance, Talat’s own father had no idea that being a member of SEKO Seamen union, he was entitled to same rights as his Swedish colleagues.    

Talat refused to put up with these horrible conditions and discrimination and initiated a campaign for equal rights in 1999.

Meantime, the management was telling these migrant workers that they should be happy since they were earning in Sweden what would have been a fortune in Pakistan.

However, a valiant struggle by these workers led to massive improvements in 1999.

Talat got involved in to the union to organize non-EU workers and faced deportation during the campaign for work permits in 2002, when M/S Baltic star change the flag to Sweden and changed the name to M/S Birger Jarl.

In 2008, a yet another challenge was posed by new legislation introduced by the European Union (EU). Under the new rules, ships carrying European flags were advised to fire non-EU workers. Else, subsidy could be slashed. For the workers from Kashmir and Pakistan, it meant redundancies.Talat´s father had worked for 23 years on-board Birger Jarl by 2008.

SEKO SJöfolk(Seamen) union refused to rescue these workers. Abandoned by SEKO Seamen, these workers joined SAC (Syndicalist Workers Confederation). Under SAC’s banner, Talat filmed and organize this phase of intense fight back. Finally, while these workers lost their jobs but they got the right to settle in Sweden as Swedish citizens and re-build their lives in the country of their employment.

This documentary is not only about the struggle to gain the right to a decent work.  It is also about regaining dignity as a human being.  It is a story about breaking free from isolation. It´s a story of discriminated people, finally, asserting their right to equality in a society considered most democratic in the world.

 

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