Maritime News

Help us implement the ‘Bill of Rights’

4 August 2006

Cleo Doumbia-Henry*
Doumbia-Henry: Announced five-year action plan*

Trade unions have a crucial role to play in implementing the new Maritime Labour Convention, the Seafarers’ Section Conference was told today by the Director of Labour Standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Often known as the “Seafarers’ Bill of Rights”, the convention brings together and updates over 60 maritime labour standards of the ILO. It was adopted in February this year, following five years of intensive negotiations involving governments, shipowners and the ITF, representing seafarers’ unions.

“Seafarers’ organisations can play a key role in helping turn the potential of effective protection in the convention into reality through their work at a national level and through cooperation with the shipowners’ organisations and governments that are committed to the convention,” said Doumbia-Henry.

33 per cent ratification
She pointed out that at least 30 countries representing 33 per cent of world shipping gross tonnage had to ratify the convention before it could come into force.

“Widespread ratification and effective protection through national implementation is required if the convention’s minimum standards are to apply to every ship, whatever its flag and wherever it travels,” she added. “But it is not sufficient that those standards apply to every ship; in addition, they must be properly and uniformly enforced.”

Doumbia-Henry went on to announce that the ILO would pursue a five-year action plan to promote the rapid ratification of the convention and to provide legal and technical assistance to countries that were not yet in a position to implement it.

Introducing Doumbia-Henry to the conference, Seafarers’ Section Chair Brian Orrell said it was vital that the new convention was now ratified and effectively enforced. Otherwise all the effort involved in its drafting and adoption would have been in vain.

In the discussion which followed her speech, Ivan Victor of the BTB Belgian transport union said he was pleased to report that in the wake of lobbying by the union the government had now presented the convention to parliament. It was expected to be ratified within two months.

The convention is, Doumbia-Henry told ITF delegates and advisers, the “fourth pillar” of the international regulatory system for the global maritime industry, alongside the International Maritime Organization’s safety, training and environmental pollution conventions.

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

Certificates required
Ships covered by the convention will be required to have certificates proving that they meet these key labour, health and safety standards.

Although the convention applies directly only to ships carrying the flag of a ratifying state, the enforcement provisions contain a “no more favourable treatment” clause. This means that a ship registered in a country that has not ratified the convention could still fail a port inspection for falling short of the new international standards.

Summing up the importance of the convention, Doumbia-Henry said: “Internationally agreed minimum standards for decent work, reflecting basic human and social rights, that are evenly and inclusively applied and effectively enforced to protect all workers, are essential to achieving fair globalisation and, with it, sustainable economic development for all countries.”

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