Mariner 'Bill of Rights' Takes Effect


September 2013


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Seafaring organizations around the world welcomed the implementation of the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 (MLC) on Aug. 20.


Along with maritime allies across the globe, including the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the SIU is confident that this new but long-anticipated agreement has great potential to make a genuine difference in the lives of mariners.


As pointed out by the ITF, some of the benefits of the MLC for foreign mariners include the potential to stop blacklisting and charging for jobs by some manning agents; the recognition of all crew – including hospitality crew on international cruise ships – as seafarers, who will now all get the same protections; enhanced checks by port state control, including examining pay disputes such as double bookkeeping; and the establishment of welfare facilities in ports and of shipboard safety committees.


ITF President Paddy Crumlin stated, “The MLC represents a significant leap forward in the global trade union campaign to improve the labor rights and labor standards of seafarers. It is a true watershed in international shipping, which adds the pillar of workers’ rights to existing standards of safety, security and crew standards.”


 ITF General Secretary Steve Cotton noted, “We’ve been waiting over a decade to say this, and now we can: As of Aug. 20, a seafarers’ bill of rights exists. The MLC has come into force. The MLC lays out your minimum rights as a seafarer and promotes good employment practices across the shipping industry. It incorporates and builds on 68 existing maritime labor conventions and recommendations to ensure decent working and living conditions.


“The convention also stipulates that everyone working on board a cruise ship making international voyages is a seafarer and entitled to the protections it guarantees,” he continued. “These include the right to a safe and secure workplace; fair terms of employment; decent living and working conditions; access to medical care, health protection and welfare.”


SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, who chairs the ITF Seafarers’ Section, pointed out that the MLC is expected to be strictly enforced by flag states and port state control authorities.


“It should provide a one-stop shop for labor standards,” he observed. “This will mean that all seafarers should be able to enjoy comprehensive protection of their fundamental rights, and it should also ensure good employment practices across the industry, creating a level playing field in which good ship operators are not put at an economic disadvantage by bad ones.”


The MLC addresses a range of matters, including the obligations of shipping companies with respect to seafarers’ contractual arrangements; the responsibilities of manning agencies; working hours; health and safety; existing International Labor Organization maritime standards; and accepted good-employment practices.


Under it, every ship over 500 gross tonnage operating in international waters or between ports of different countries will have to have a maritime labor certificate issued by its flag administration following an inspection. There will also a requirement for ships to complete and maintain on board a declaration of maritime labor compliance.


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.


The ITF is supporting the MLC’s launch with a range of advice and materials designed to help seafarers understand and apply it. This includes a dedicated online area at



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