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Charter for the 21st century

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Page context: HomeResourcesInside the IssuesIMO and ILOBriefing: IMO and ILO > 2006: ILO: Charter for the 21st century


Seafarers can now look forward to the introduction of a comprehensive and enforceable “bill of rights”.

Over the past five years, the ITF has been quietly working with government and shipowners’ representatives to put together a ground-breaking global labour standard for the shipping industry.

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006, which will enshrine in law a comprehensive set of minimum standards for seafarers, was finally adopted by delegates at the International Labour Organisation’s maritime labour conference in February 2006 in Geneva, Switzerland.

It is hoped that the convention will represent the “fourth pillar” of the international regulatory system for the global maritime industry, alongside the International Maritime Organisation’s safety, training and pollution conventions.

The convention – also known as the Consolidated Maritime Convention because it brings together and updates over 65 other ILO maritime labour instruments – will provide the world’s more than 1.2 million seafarers with comprehensive social protection for the first time.

It sets minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship, with provisions on conditions of employment, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health, medical care, welfare and social security protection.

Most critically, the convention is enforceable. Ships governed by it will not be allowed to sail by port states without securing certificates proving that they meet key labour, health and safety standards. New provisions, including those for seafarers’ complaints procedures and enhanced port state inspections, will help to ensure compliance.

The convention applies directly only to ships carrying the flag of a state that has ratified it. However, the enforcement provisions contain a “no more favourable treatment” clause. This means, for example, that a ship flagged by a country that has not ratified the convention could still end up in trouble during a port inspection for falling short of the standards it lays down.

Jon Whitlow, Secretary of the ITF Seafarers’ Section, commented: “The ITF has always endeavoured to lift the advocacy of seafarers to the highest international level and to ensure that seafarers have a voice that is heard and acknowledged by our national governments.”

He went on: “All too often seafarers’ rights are under threat and the essential contribution made by the ‘human element’ forgotten or ignored. That’s why we welcome this convention. It goes some way to addressing our key concerns about seafarers’ working conditions and rights, and acknowledges that a global industry needs global regulation enforced at sea and in the world’s ports.”

Luis Barrera is a member of the ITF-affiliated Chilean seafarers’ union, Sindicato de Trabajadores Interempresas de Compañias Navieras. A seafarer with 10 years’ experience, he has been working on freighters for the past six years. His son, taking after him, is also hoping for a career on the high seas. Luis believes that he and his colleagues – as well as his son should he follow in his footsteps – will benefit from the new convention.

He comments: “ILO regulations are always good, especially because they give more responsibility to states. Sometimes, there is no ITF inspector in a particular port, so if the state has instruments to inspect and help seafarers, it makes a difference to us.”

He adds: “In general, I can say that if it were not for the ILO and the ITF, we could be used as slaves.”

It is expected that the convention will come into force within the next few years.


Key provisions of the new ‘bill of rights’

  • There must be an employment agreement signed by both the seafarer and the shipowner or a representative of the shipowner. The agreement should provide the seafarer with decent working and living conditions on board the ship.
  • Seafarers must be paid for their work regularly and in accordance with their employment agreements – payments must be made at least at monthly intervals and in accordance with any applicable collective agreement.
  • The hours of work for seafarers over the age of 18 (different provisions apply for those under 18) are limited to no more than 14 hours in any 24-hour period and 72 hours in any seven-day period – or minimum hours of rest should not be less than 10 hours in any 24-hour period and 77 hours in any seven-day period.
  • Seafarers are entitled to repatriation in a number of situations – these include illness or injury or other medical condition, shipwreck, if the shipowner is unable to fulfil their legal or contractual obligations as an employer as a result of insolvency, the sale of the ship and a change of ship’s registration. The shipowner is obliged to pay the costs associated with a seafarer’s repatriation in these circumstances.
  • Decent living accommodation and recreational facilities should be provided and maintained for seafarers working or living on board. There are specific requirements on the size of rooms and other spaces, heating and ventilation, noise and vibration and other ambient factors, sanitary facilities, lighting, and hospital accommodation.
  • Seafarers’ health should be protected through access to prompt and adequate medical care whilst working on board. Shore-based medical facilities for treating seafarers should also be adequate, and properly qualified doctors, dentists and other medical personnel used.
  • Measures for effective enforcement and compliance include a certification system for labour standards. A Maritime Labour Certificate and Declaration of
  • Maritime Labour Compliance must be issued by the flag state and must be produced on board during port inspection.

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Maritime Labour Convention, 2006


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