Fulfilling Maritime Convention’s Promise

Aug 22, 2012

by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights

Monday marked a very important day for seafarers and the entire maritime community when the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced it had received the requisite 30th ratification for the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006) to come into force. I consider the MLC, 2006 the most significant single accomplishment in thousands of years of seafarers’ rights law. It provides in one convention a comprehensive statement of seafarers’ rights and working conditions that have withstood the test of time and reflect modern shipping realities.

The MLC, 2006 was adopted in 2006 after five years of intensive deliberations at the ILO by governments, trade unions, shipowners, and non-governmental organizations. I feel very close to the MLC, 2006 after having chaired the International Christian Maritime Organization’s Standing Delegation to the ILO throughout the process. The MLC, 2006 is truly an enormous accomplishment. It establishes minimum requirements for almost all aspects of seafarers’ working conditions, including conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection. Importantly, the convention’s enforcement mechanisms ensure that ship operators follow its standards.

The MLC, 2006 requires that it will come into force one year after 30 nations, representing at least 33 percent of the world’s gross shipping tonnage, have ratified it. The tonnage requirement was met in 2009. Yesterday’s ratification by Russia and the Philippines met the 30-nation requirement. The MLC, 2006 ratifying nations include Liberia, Marshall Islands, Bahamas, Panama, Norway, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Spain, Croatia, Bulgaria, Canada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Switzerland, Benin, Singapore, Denmark, Antigua and Barbuda, Latvia, Luxembourg, Kiribati, Netherlands, Australia, St Kitts and Nevis, Tuvalu, Togo, Poland, Palau, Sweden, Cyprus, Russian Federation, and the Philippines. The MLC, 2006 is not binding on countries that have not ratified it, but the Convention requires their ships to meet the MLC, 2006 standards when entering ratifying countries’ ports.

The United States Department of Labor has informed me that the President’s Committee on the ILO has made the MLC, 2006 a priority and that the U.S. Coast Guard is heading up a special working group to conduct an analysis of U.S. law and practice vis-à-vis the MLC, 2006. I do not expect, however, that the United States will ratify the MLC, 2006 until after the national elections in November and the new Congress is formed in February 2013.

SCI will provide MLC, 2006 training for port chaplains and other interested seafarers’ welfare workers. I recently earned certification by the ILO as an MLC, 2006 trainer and will provide training specifically designed for chaplains and welfare workers compatible with the preparation maritime inspectors receive. Look for details of the courses later this year.

In addition, SCI is co-sponsoring with the Charleston School of Law and the Charleston Maritime Law Institute a symposium on the MLC, 2006 on November 16 in Charleston, SC. Speakers include MLC, 2006 experts who held key positions in negotiating the Convention: Mr. Joseph J. Cox, Mr. David W. Heindel and Ms. Mayte Medina. Persons interested in attending the symposium should contact Ms. Darla Walls at dwalls@charlestonlaw.edu.