Your Legal Rights
Know Your Rights!
Seafarers’ rights is a complex area since your rights can exist at different levels and they can be overlapping and sometimes conflicting.
Therefore if you have a legal problem, you will need to seek advice from your union and from a lawyer who will discuss your specific situation.
This information is general advice only.
Sources of Seafarers’ Rights:
- Flag State law
A ship has the nationality of the flag that it flies. Also, under international law, the laws of a flag State apply to a ship regardless of the location of the ship. Therefore you - as a seafarer - are entitled to the protection of, and are governed by, the laws of the flag State wherever the ship is and regardless of your nationality. For example, if you are a Filipino seafarer on a Panama flag ship, you have rights (and obligations) under the laws of Panama. So, always be aware of what flag your ship is flying and where necessary, ask for assistance to find out what are the laws of that flag State.
- Port State law
When your ship enters a port, that port State can exercise certain powers over the ship whilst it is in port. Generally a port State does not intervene in the internal affairs of a ship unless there is a dispute which concerns the peace and good order of the port (for example if a crime is committed on board a ship). However in many jurisdictions around the world, if you have a legal claim, for example for unpaid wages, you will be able to start a legal action in the courts of the port State. Again where necessary, ask for assistance to find out what are the laws of the port State.
- Your home State
You will be able to rely on rights contained in your home State law if that law governs your contract of employment. Otherwise, if you are in trouble when abroad, your home country should provide support and assistance through its consular offices. Therefore ask for assistance through consular officers.
- Your contract of employment
Your individual contract of employment will set out what your rights are as between you and your employer. Your contract may be (1) a private contract and/or (2) a collective bargaining agreement produced by a trade union or an employers’ association and/or (3) a form of contract in which the government has taken an active role (such as the POEA Contract: Standard Terms and Conditions governing the employment of Filipino Seafarers onboard Ocean Going Ships). Your contract may be directly with the shipowner, or it may be with a manning agent, or it may be with some other agent for the shipowner. All these different arrangements can affect your rights. However above all it is important that you have a copy of your contract of employment, that you read it and that you know what rights are contained in it.
- International laws
International laws are laws made at the highest level between States. Since it was founded in 1919, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has set international labour standards for all workers, and specifically has set standards for seafarers in more than 65 Conventions and Recommendations. These instruments, taken together, constitute a comprehensive set of standards and concern practically all aspects of living and working conditions of seafarers. In February 2006, these existing conventions and recommendations were updated and consolidated in the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, a single, coherent international maritime labour standard for seafarers that entered into force on 20 August 2013.
Human rights instruments also exist at international and regional level which may be relevant to the rights of seafarers.
Also at the international level, Conventions of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) impose obligations on States, a number of which have the effect of creating benefits for seafarers.