“This training activity is related to flag State ship inspection which is not just important, it is essential for the enforcement of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006”.
Dominick Devlin is a special advisor on the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006) and he is one of the experts involved in the Maritime Labour Academy, a programme of specialized courses aimed at strengthening the capacity of governments, shipowners and seafarers in the application of the Convention. In this interview, Dominick Devlin explains why the MLC, 2006 formula requires special training and why this is essential for the enforcement of the Convention.
What is so innovative about the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 to require such a specific training programme?
The MLC, 2006 is an immense endeavour and there has been nothing like it since 1919, when the first international labour convention was adopted. The MLC, 2006 places together about 36 existing Conventions, it consolidates them, and when countries ratify it they are not allowed to “pick and choose” between the various parts, like in some other ILO Conventions. What makes it easy for these countries to ratify is a principle of firmness and flexibility: firmness on making sure that the rights of the seafarers are enforced but with a considerable degree of flexibility for the governments, in the way that they will deliver those rights. On the other hand, it is a Convention that relies very much on having an efficient and strong enforcement process, including the enforcement in countries that haven’t ratified the Convention but whose ships, flying their flags, visit the ports of a ratifying country (port State control).
What is the role of inspection for the enforcement of the Convention?
The MLC, 2006 for its success depends on the people on the ground: flag State inspectors at the first line, port State control at the second line. Shipowners, seafarers and seafarers' organisations, for example, can also help the enforcement process. This is why we are having these courses. We have to make sure that our inspectors are effective. Many participants in our courses will have long experience in maritime inspection, but, although very useful, their experience is not sufficient. What we need now is to have inspectors who are able first of all to understand that they will not be looking at the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 itself, but at the national laws implementing the Convention. They will have to learn how the Convention works and where to find the precise requirements that are to be complied with, and this is a new element which they didn't have before. In addition to that, there is the human element, of course. It is easy to inspect a machine, while it is harder to obtain information interviewing a seafarer in private, because they may often be reluctant to talk about possible problems relating to their working and living conditions. So there is a whole new technique that has to be learnt, due to these two elements: the human element and the fact that the requirements to be inspected against are contained in national provisions, including (in some cases) collective agreements, as the requirements for the Convention will be found in national laws and also in other measures, such as collective agreements.
And how are the social partners involved in the process?
This Convention is giving a role not only to inspectors to ensure compliance, but also to the seafarers, through the complaint system, and to the shipowners, through the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance. Shipowners, in fact, are responsible for indicating how they are going to implement the Convention on board, although their proposed procedures for ensuring compliance have to be inspected and approved by the competent authority or recognized organization. The role of shipowners and seafarers in the enforcement process is very important. But the success of the MLC, 2006, will ultimately depend upon the widespread ratification and implementation of the Convention, based on a proper system of inspection in every country: inspection primarily at the level of the flag States, which should be harmonized as far as possible. But we have to remember that flexibility means that there will be differently worded requirements from law to law. In this connection, there is the added safeguard, at the second level of inspection, namely port State control. In this regard, the MLC, 2006 has its own approach: a strong system of port State control that aims at catching substandard ships visiting a country’s port, without unduly impeding the operations of ships complying with the Convention.