SIU Official Explains Importance of Seafarers ‘Bill of Rights’


May 2013


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Describing it as one of the most important pieces of international maritime legislation in modern history, SIU Secretary- Treasurer David Heindel told a recent shipping industry gathering that the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 (MLC) will undoubtedly change international shipping for the better.


“When asked to give a seafarer perspective on the subject of the Maritime Labor Convention, I jumped at the opportunity,” said Heindel, who also serves as chairman of the Seafarers’ Section of the SIU-affiliated International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). “That’s primarily because the MLC may be one of, if not the most important piece of international legislation on behalf of seafarers enacted in maritime history in nearly 100 years. As important as the Jones Act is to U.S. seafarers and our domestic carriers, the Maritime Labor Convention is just as significant to international seafarers and their shipowners.”


Speaking to a gathering of more than 2,400 maritime industry leaders at the Connecticut Maritime Association’s CMA Shipping 2013 event, Heindel reviewed the history of international shipping and how so-called flag-of-convenience registries have allowed some shipowners to avoid providing seafarers with adequate pay and safe working conditions. He added the MLC – which is set to begin implementation in August – will do much to remedy that problem.


“The [MLC] provides comprehensive rights and protections at work for the world’s more than 1.5 million seafarers,” he said. “In my mind, the convention is all about fairness: fairness to the legitimate shipowner and, more importantly, fairness to the seafarers employed by them.”


The MLC incorporates principles found in many International Labor Organization conventions and combines the standards of 68 conventions into one document. Once implemented, Heindel said, mariners around the world would reap the benefits of the MLC.


“This new super-convention, if you will, is truly the Magna Carta of the modern merchant marine and is arguably the most important convention covering migratory workers which has ever been adopted,” Heindel said. “The convention aims to achieve both decent employment rights for seafarers while securing the economic interests and fair competition for quality shipowners.”


The MLC has been ratified by 35 countries representing nearly 70 percent of gross world ship tonnage, though Heindel said the convention will still impact countries – including the United States – that have yet to ratify it. Ships from non-ratifying countries may be subject to inspection when docking in countries that have ratified the MLC.


While U.S. laws and regulations, coupled with collective bargaining agreements, ensure U.S.-flag ships exceed the provisions of the MLC, Heindel said only U.S. ratification of the convention would guarantee American ships are not detained.


“With regard to the 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 year’s end,” Heindel said. “We owe it to the world’s seafarers and look forward to a speedy U.S. ratification and enforcement.”


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