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Frequently asked questions

Your rights under the MLC

What are my rights under the MLC?

you have the right to:

  • a safe and secure workplace
  • fair terms of employment
  • decent living and working conditions
  • social protection – access to medical care, health protection and welfare
  • freedom of association – to join a trade union of your choice
  • have your union negotiate a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on your behalf.

Who is covered by the MLC?

The MLC covers all vessels and applies to all seafarers. But you must be at least 16 and have a medical certificate to work on a ship.

All ships are covered except:

  • ships navigating exclusively in inland waters, close to the coast, in sheltered waters or areas where port regulations apply
  • fishing vessels
  • ships of traditional build, such as dhows or junks
  • warships and naval auxiliaries

Ships below 200 GT, that are not carrying out international voyages, can be excluded by the flag State from some of the requirements if the seafarers’ rights concerned are already covered by national laws, collective agreements or other measures.

Seafarer means any person who is employed or engaged or works in any capacity on board a ship to which the Convention applies. This includes riding gangs and hotel staff on cruise ships – anyone working on board.

If there is any doubt as to whether a category of ship or person is covered by the Convention, the situation has to be clarified between the State authorities in consultation with the shipowner and seafarer organizations concerned.

What about recruitment?

Crew manning agencies offering recruitment services must not charge you for finding you work. You can only be charged for the costs of obtaining your national statutory medical certificate, national seafarers’ book, passport or similar personal travel documents.

What does the MLC say about employment agreements?

You are entitled to a fair employment agreement or contract setting out decent living and working conditions on board. It must be signed by you and your employer, be easy to understand and legally enforceable.
All information on the terms and conditions of employment, including the CBA, must be freely accessible to everyone on board and available for inspection in port.
Your employment agreement must contain:

  • Your full name, date of birth/age and place of birth.
  • Shipowner’s name and address.
  • Place and date when the agreement was signed.
  • Your position on board.
  • The amount of your wages and how they are calculated.
  • The amount of paid annual leave.
  • Conditions for terminating the contract, including notice period where applicable.
  • Expiry date if the contract is for a fixed term.
  • Port of destination – and how long after arrival you will be discharged, if the contract is for a specific voyage.
  • Health and social security benefits provided by the shipowner
  • Your entitlement to repatriation.
  • Reference to the CBA, if applicable.

What are my wage rights?

  • You have the right to be paid regularly and in full, at least monthly, and in accordance with your employment agreement or CBA.
  • Your employer must provide you with a monthly account.
  • Overtime records should be kept by the captain and endorsed at least monthly by you.
  • Your employer must ensure that you are able to send all or part of your earnings home – you shouldn’t pay unreasonable charges for this.
  • You should be paid in full any outstanding remuneration on termination of engagement
  • No deductions can be made from your pay unless expressly permitted by national law or agreed in the CBA.

What about working hours?

    •    Normal working hours are based on an eight-hour day, with one day of rest per week
    •    You must not work more than 14 hours in any 24-hour period
    •    You must not work more than 72 hours in any seven-day period
    •    You must have at least 10 hours' rest in any 24-hour period
    •    You must have at least 77 hours' rest in any seven-day period

However, in the event of an emergency, or to assist other ships or persons in distress, the captain can suspend the work schedule.

The ship must keep records of hours of work and hours of rest, and you must receive an endorsed copy of your hours of work/rest.

Do I have rights to paid leave?

You are entitled to paid annual leave, on the basis of at least 2.5 days for every calendar month of employment, and shore leave.

What about repatriation?

You have a right to be repatriated at no cost to yourself if you have served up to 12 months on board.

What if I can't work because I am ill?

Shipowners are responsible for any costs resulting from sickness, injury or death connected to your employment, from the date you start a contract until you have been repatriated, or can claim medical benefits under an insurance/compensation scheme.

If you need medicine or medical treatment, the shipowner has to pay any bills until you have recovered or have been signed off as permanently disabled. The shipowner’s responsibility for paying these costs may be limited to 16 weeks from the day of injury/sickness, if stated in national law/regulation.

If you are unable to work because of the injury/illness, you should get full wages while you are on board. When you get home, national laws and CBAs will determine whether you get full or part pay or a cash settlement.  These payments may be limited to 16 weeks from the day of injury/sickness.

What should I do if I'm not getting my rights?

You can make a complaint on board to a senior officer, the captain or the shipowner, or the flag state.

If the problem is with a shipowner, you can also raise this with the flag state or the port state.
If you make a complaint on board, you have the right to be accompanied by a representative or a fellow seafarer – and not to be victimised for making a complaint.

You can also make a complaint to a port state control (PSC) officer/labour inspector.

You don’t have to make the complaint directly - someone else (such as an ITF inspector or a welfare worker) can make it for you.