ILO Moves to Protect World’s Mariners


May 2014


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Mariners around the world should enjoy stronger protections following international efforts to tackle crew abandonment.


During meetings last month in Geneva, the International Labor Organization (ILO) approved amendments adding mechanisms to the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 (MLC) to safeguard crews. More than 300 maritime representatives examined a joint proposal by unions and shipowners to address abandonment and to ensure that flag states have in place a financial security system providing abandoned mariners with outstanding wages, repatriation and other reasonable costs until they arrive home. There were 8,890 votes in favor of the proposal, none against, and 143 abstentions, according to the ILO.


Another set of amendments was also approved, regarding shipowners’ ability to ensure financial security is provided, certified and inspected in order to expeditiously deal with contractual claims.


The amendments need another approval, which is expected to take place at the next session of the ILO conference this month (May).


SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel participated in the Geneva meeting in April and served as spokesperson for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). He chairs the ITF Seafarers’ Section.


Following the vote on April 11, he said that the MLC, known as a bill of rights for the world’s mariners, “has entered a new generation today. We have always known that abandonment would be the priority for this stage two of the MLC, but to see that problem so widely recognized and marked for action has been inspiring.”


Also speaking at the meeting, ITF President Paddy Crumlin said, “Today’s vote represents a genuine turning point for the convention. It proves that seafarers, shipowners and governments are committed to continuously reviewing the implementation of the MLC in order to ensure that it is a truly global and living instrument for the protection and benefit of all seafarers. Abandonment is a particularly dark stain on the industry and the new amendments are real and concrete relief for seafarers facing that dire predicament.”


The amendments were developed over nearly a decade by a joint working group established by the ILO and the International Maritime Organization. They establish mandatory requirements that shipowners have financial security to cover abandonment, as well as death or long-term disability of seafarers due to occupational injury and hazard.


Under the new provisions, ships will be required to carry certificates or other documents to establish that financial security exists to protect seafarers working on board. Failure to provide this protection may mean that a ship can be detained in a port.


As of March 2014, the ILO’s Abandonment of Seafarers Database listed 159 abandoned merchant ships, some dating back to 2006 and still unresolved.


“These legal standards will provide relief and peace of mind to abandoned seafarers and their families wherever they may be,” said Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, director of the ILO Labor Standards Department. “In addition, by adopting these amendments to the Convention, shipowners and governments are also strengthening its provisions aimed at ensuring a level-playing field for quality shipping around the world.”


The MLC took effect last August. To date, 57 ILO member states representing more than 80 percent of the world’s global shipping tonnage have ratified it.



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