ILO Setting Maritime Labour Standard

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Nearly 1.2 million seafarers work for the world’s shipping industry. This industry is genuinely global in nature and therefore an international regulatory regime of universal acceptance is imperative. The rapid developments in the shipping industry, ship management, financing, ship registries, ship design, environmental concerns, technological advancements etc rendered the existing diverse and complex provisions inadequate to meet the current scenario. In 2001, by a joint resolution of the International Seafarers’ and Ship Owners’ Organisations, later supported by governments, had called on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to develop an “instrument which brings together into a consolidated text, as much of the existing body of ILO instruments as it proves possible to achieve, in order to improve the relevance of these standards to the needs of all the stake holders”

Considering the call of stake holders, the ILO is on a path to introduce a consolidated maritime labour convention reflecting the needs of a globalized shipping industry. While posting this article, the tenth Maritime Session of the 94th International Labour Conference of ILO is carving and consolidating the international labour instruments in Geneva, Switzerland (from 07 to 23 February 2006). The new legal instrument will be known as the ‘Maritime Labour Convention 2006’.

Opening session of the Maritime Session of the International Labour Conference. Geneva, 7 February 2006

Cream of Maritime Labour Conventions

The ‘Maritime Labour Convention 2006’ (MLC) contains a comprehensive set of global standards, based on those that are already found in over 60 maritime labour instruments adopted by ILO since 1920. It is expected to complement the key conventions of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) such as the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), 1978 as amended, the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 as amended (SOLAS) and the International Convention of Pollution from Ships, 73/78 (MARPOL). It sets out seafarers’ right to decent conditions of work, on wide range of subjects and is intended to be globally applicable, easily understandable, readily updatable and uniformly enforced.

Maritime Session of the International Labour Conference. Geneva, 10 February 2006. Meeting of the seafarer members of the Conference.
Contents of MLC
Besides the updated version of the existing maritime labour instruments, the MLC 2006, it contains provisions relating to occupational safety and health to meet current health concerns. The Regulations and the Standards & Guidelines of the Convention are integrated and organized into the following areas of general concern:-
• Minimum requirements for seafarers to work onboard a ship.
• Conditions of employment.
• Accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering.
• Health Protection, Medical Care, Welfare and Social Security Protection.
• Compliance and enforcement.
Application of MLC 2006

The proposed Convention applies to all seafarers who work in any capacity onboard ships covered by the Convention. These ships include all ships ordinarily engaged in commercial activities, other than those sailing in inland waters and ships engaged in fishing or similar pursuits. However, applications of some provisions are exempted for ships under 500 GT that are not engaged in international voyage.

Implementation of International Standards

There are many flag states and ship owners that take pride in providing better working conditions on their ships to seafarers. In ships flying the flags of countries that do not exercise effective jurisdiction and control over them, as required by the international law, seafarers work under unfavorable conditions detrimental to their health and safety. Quite often seafarers work outside their home country and at ports with no representation of their employers. MLC 2006 addresses the requirement of an effective international legislation for this sector. The effectiveness of this convention depends on the standard of flag state inspections and port state control in line with its provisions.

Prospects of Universal Ratification

Over 500 delegates representing governments, seafarers and employers from over 80 countries who participated in a preparatory conference in 2004 have endorsed their unswerving support for the draft convention. This being a consolidation of the existing legislations that have been ratified by majority of the nations, a universal ratification of the MLC 2006 is expected very quickly.

Compliance and Enforcement

MLC 2006 aims to establish a continuous ‘compliance awareness’ system, starting with educating seafarers on their rights and of the remedies available in case of alleged non-compliance. The Masters of the ships will be responsible for carrying out the ship owners’ stated plans and for keeping proper records pertaining to implementation of the requirement of the convention. Ships will be required to carry a ‘Maritime Labour Certificate’ and a declaration of ‘Maritime Labour Compliance’ onboard. A list of the 14 areas that must be certified by the flag state and that may be inspected in a foreign port are also set out in the Convention. The flag state maritime administration is expected to ensure that national laws and regulations are also adhered to and stipulated periodic quality assessment reports are forwarded to ILO.


The ships of ratifying countries that provide decent conditions of work for their seafarers will have protection against unfair competition from sub-standard ships and will benefit from a system of certification, avoiding or reducing the likelihood of lengthy delays related to inspections in foreign ports. The convention contains provisions for complaint procedures available to seafarers regarding ship owners’ and ship masters’ supervision of conditions on their ships. This provision is expected to strengthen enforcement of the standards when the convention is finally adopted.

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