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On course for decent shipping

When the ILO adopted the Maritime Labour Convention in February 2006, Director-General Juan Somavia called it “making labour history”. Following the ratification by Russia and the Philippines, the Convention will come into force in 12 months’ time. What does this mean for the world’s 1.2 million seafarers?

Feature | 20 August 2012
"Y M Orchid”, a 275 metre long cargo
GENEVA (ILO News) - Four years ago, when the ILO photographer visited the Port of Genoa in Italy, he also met a young seafarer, Ms Wang Chung-Hai. The young cadet broke many stereotypes.

Not only because she was one of the world’s 1-2 per cent female seafarers hoping to become one of the even rarer women officers or captains one day. Or because Chung-Hai’s pay is about five times the ILO minimum wage for seafarers.

She proudly showed the photographer her tidy and spacious cabin which she is allowed to share with her partner when she goes on shorter voyages in the Asian region. When her ship, the “Y M Orchid”, a 275 metre long recently built cargo ship operating under the flag of Panama, was inspected by the Italian port state control officer, it was found to be in perfect condition.

Ms Wang Chung-Hai
Not all seafarers are so lucky, as not all ships are so well-kept. Many seafarers face a more difficult, dangerous and dirty reality, working on unsafe ships that are not fit to sail.

In the same port of Genoa, the ILO photographer saw a ship that had been abandoned with its crew by the owner. Their salaries had not been paid for months and they did not know how to pay their trip back home. Although this was an extreme case, the ILO Database on Abandonment of Seafarers reports more than 100 similar cases since it was established in 2004.

The ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006) states that shipowners must continue to pay seafarers’ wages until they are repatriated.

A seafarers’ bill of rights

The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006), goes far beyond addressing the issue of wages at sea. It sets out seafarers’ rights to decent conditions of work on a wide range of subjects, including basic employment rights, improved enforcement of minimum working and living conditions and the right to make complaints both on board and ashore.

Under the MLC, 2006 every seafarer has the right to:
  • A safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards
  • Fair terms of employment
  • decent working and living conditions on board ship
  • Health protection, medical care, welfare measures and other forms of social protection
As the Convention applies to all ships, including those of non-ratifying Member States, it will be globally applicable and can be uniformly enforced.

The MLC, 2006, will come into force 12 months after ratification by 30 ILO member States, representing a total share of at least 33 percent of the world’s gross tonnage (gt) of ships. With the ratification of the Philippines and Russia, both conditions have now been met and even exceeded.

Often described as a “Bill of Rights” for seafarers, the Convention also helps to achieve a “level-playing field” for quality shipowners, ensuring fair competition while marginalizing sub-standard ship operations.

The Convention promotes a strong enforcement regime to ensure that labour standards are enforced as effectively as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) conventions on ship safety, security and environmental protection (SOLAS/MARPOL) by both flag and port States.

More power for regulation

Under the MLC, 2006, States must inspect all ships flying their flag and also issue those ships with a maritime labour certificate and a declaration of maritime labour compliance if ships are 500 gt or over and go on international voyages.

Lt. Vincenzo Paolo Leone coast guard and  port state control officer
If a ship that has undergone a flag state inspection does not meet the requirements, the inspector reserves the right not to issue the certificate, can refuse to endorse it or, in especially serious cases, may even withdraw it.

The reasons for which a ship may be detained will also change once the MLC, 2006 comes into force.

Nowadays detention is limited to safety-related matters. The MLC, 2006 however goes beyond this and also covers the social welfare of seafarers. That means an inspector will be able to detain a vessel or prevent it from going to sea if the social or labour rights of the crew are being violated, for example, if wages are not being paid or employment records are not in order.

“We can still see seafarers sailing on sub-standard ships, with working and living conditions which are substantially below minimum international standards. I am confident that the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 can address these challenges and set a safe and decent course to the future”, concludes Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, Director of the ILO’s International Labour Standards Department.

For more information, please contact Jean-Luc Martinage, ILO Press officer at - Tel: 022/799-8046 or - Tel: +41(0)22/799-7912