Maritime Labor Convention 2006 Nears Implementation Date


August 2013


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As the maritime industry heads into August, one of the most notable events will be the implementation of the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 (MLC).


For most mariners sailing under the U.S. flag this may be inconsequential, but for the hundreds of thousands seafarers sailing under a dodgy flag-of-convenience (FOC) it is a long-awaited opportunity for them to finally have respect and dignity while working at sea.


There have been many reports about the abuses foreign seafarers have endured since the FOC system came into being in the early 20th century. The MLC gives minimum rights and protections to all seafarers regardless of what the flag they work under.


Set to go into effect Aug. 20 after being ratified by nearly 40 countries, the MLC will establish an international set of standards for the maritime industry. That set of standards guarantees seafarers around the world have access to a basic set of rights, including adequate pay and good working conditions.


The keys to the convention are compliance and enforcement. Flag states and port states have responsibilities that they must meet. Under the convention, each member state implements and enforces laws or regulations or other measures that it has adopted to fulfill its commitments under the accord with respect to ships and seafarers under its jurisdiction. Further, each member state effectively exercises its jurisdiction and control over ships that fly its flag by establishing a system for ensuring compliance with the requirements of the convention, including regular inspections, reporting, monitoring and legal proceedings under the applicable laws.


Each member state will also ensure that ships flying its flag carry a maritime labor certificate and a declaration of maritime labor compliance as required by the convention.


And finally, a ship to which this convention applies may, in accordance with international law, be inspected by a member other than the flag state when the ship is in one of its ports to determine whether the vessel complies with convention requirements.


That requirement could mean American-flag ships may be inspected and detained if the MLC is not ratified by the United States. While U.S. laws and regulations, coupled with collective bargaining agreements, ensure U.S.-flag ships exceed the MLC’s provisions, American ships may still be subject to inspection and possible detainment if the U.S. fails to ratify the convention.


Under the MLC’s “no more favorable treatment clause,” any vessel flagged to a country that has not ratified the convention will be subject to inspection and detainment when arriving in the port of an MLC member nation. To date, the MLC member nations make up 39 countries that account for nearly 70 percent of the world’s tonnage. Those countries include Australia, Canada, Greece, Singapore and Spain.


SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel – who also serves as chairman of the International Transportation Workers’ Federation (ITF) Seafarers’ Section – has said in recent forums that work is being done to have the convention ratified by the United States. It’s the only way, he added, to avoid the burden of undue inspections and detainments.


“With regard to U.S. ratification, we have been working with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Labor and our social partners (shipowners) to bring it forward and are quite happy to say we hope to have the U.S. Senate vote on ratification before the year’s end,” Heindel said. “We owe it to the world’s seafarers and look forward to a speedy U.S. ratification and an effective enforcement policy.”


Preparing for the possibility the U.S. would not ratify the MLC, the Coast Guard published a notice in February that established a set of procedures for the inspection of U.S. vessels related to voluntary compliance with the MLC. By establishing it has voluntarily complied with the MLC’s standards on its own, a U.S. vessel could obtain a Statement of Voluntary Compliance, Maritime Labor Convention. That document could make the process of docking in foreign ports less likely to be inspected if that port state were signatory to the MLC.


Widely considered to be a seafarers’ bill of rights, the MLC was hailed as a huge step forward upon its adoption. It incorporates the standards of 68 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions into one document and provides unprecedented protections for seafarers worldwide. The MLC’s standards address everything from wages, hours of work and age requirements, to food, health and workplace accommodations.


In a speech earlier this year, Heindel called the MLC the “Magna Carta” of the modern shipping industry.


“The MLC may be one of, if not the most important pieces of international legislation on behalf of seafarers enacted in maritime history in nearly 100 years,” he said. “The convention is all about fairness: fairness to the legitimate shipowner and, more importantly, fairness to the seafarers employed by them.”



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