Maritime Labour Convention

Since the International Labour Organisation’s Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) came into force internationally on 20 August 2013, it has already been amended, and a further two sets of amendments have been agreed and are expected to come into force in 2019 and 2020. The MLC is indeed a living instrument, and the Special Tripartite Committee set up under Article XIII to keep the Convention under continuous review, has proved to be responsive in agreeing changes in accordance with the needs of seafarers, shipowners and maritime administrations.

The 2014 amendments came into force on 18 January 2017 and require shipowners to provide financial security to cover: the costs of repatriation of abandoned seafarers (and this includes associated expenses and up to four months outstanding wages); and shipowners’ liabilities for contractual claims in the event of a seafarer’s death or long-term disability due occupational injury, illness or hazard.

The financial security provisions on repatriation have already been used to assist seafarers in a high-profile case earlier this year. The ILO database of abandoned seafarers shows that the crew members who were abandoned in Malta on the super-yacht ‘Indian Empress’ were paid US$600,000 in arrears of wages by the P&I Club providing the financial security. It remains to be seen how effective these provisions will be in reducing the incidences of abandonment and duration between abandonment and repatriation.

Although the levels of piracy attacks have reduced since the levels seen in 2009-2011, these are still at very significant levels. According to the ICC International Maritime Bureau, there has already been a total of 156 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the first nine months of 2018, compared to 121 for the same period in 2017. The MLC’s 2018 amendments, which are expected to come into force on 26 December 2020, will address the issue of seafarers’ pay whilst they are held in captivity. The changes will require MLC flag states to ensure that a seafarer’s employment agreement shall continue to have effect while they are held captive on or off the ship as a result of acts of piracy or armed robbery against ships, and that shipowners continue to pay wages and allotments (to designated dependants) during the entire period of captivity.

The purpose of Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 - UK and REG Implementation is to set out in detail how the UK and the other Red Ensign Group (REG) members Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man have implemented the MLC. Specific references are given to the laws, merchant shipping notices and guidance, as well as identifying the areas where implementation is permitted by way of collective agreements.

As the MLC sits in the context of the wider international regulatory regime, the Convention expressly endorses the application of other international instruments and standards, particularly those of the International Maritime Organisation, for example, the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping of Seafarers, 1978 (as amended). Furthermore, many of the MLC’s mandatory provisions have been incorporated into EU Directives, which are relevant to the UK and Gibraltar. These international and regional provisions are also referenced.

Chapter 1 sets out an introduction to the ILO and the MLC. Key Articles of the Convention are set out, as these explain its construction and the relative status of the Regulations and Code (which consists of mandatory Standards and non-mandatory Guidelines). The MLC’s explanatory note is set out in full, and this is particularly helpful in describing the structure of the Convention and how its constituent parts inter-relate.

Chapter 2 describes the general approach of how the UK applies its legislation to UK ships and, while they are in UK waters, non-UK ships without MLC documentation, and non-UK ships with MLC documentation.

Following those general issues, the UK and other REG members have their own dedicated chapters, which describe the specific implementation measures, across the five Titles of the MLC covering: Minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship; Conditions of employment; Accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering; Health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection; Compliance and enforcement. The specific provisions for Bermuda (Chapter 23), the Cayman Islands (Chapter 24), Gibraltar (Chapter 25) and the Isle of Man (Chapter 26) have been set out, with detailed refences to the appropriate regulatory sources.

Due to the central role of the MLC’s Title 5 on compliance and enforcement, this is set that out in full, annotated with references to the relevant sections of the ILO’s guidelines on flag state control and port state control. Title 5 sets out the MLC’s provisions on flags state inspection and certification, the entitlement of flag states to delegate many functions to recognised organisations (classification societies), on-board complaints procedures, remedial powers, power to withdraw certification, port state inspections and onshore complaints procedures, and powers to detain ships.

The full text of the amendments to the MLC have been set out, including those referred to above. The REG provisions for the 2014 amendments on financial security are also referenced and those of the UK are set out in detail. At this stage, promulgation of the REG provisions for the implementation of the 2016 and 2018 amendments is awaited.

In respect of the main seafarers’ rights, the main enforcement and remedial provisions are also set out, and include: the right of a seafarer to file complaints on board ship or with external authorities ashore, such as with the ship’s flag state administration or with the authorities of the port which ship is visiting; the right of a seafarer to commence legal action in courts and employment tribunals where their rights have been breached; REG flag state and port state powers to inspect and detain for non-compliance; reference to criminal offences for non-compliance and the associated sentencing powers of the courts (which include the imposition of fines and custodial sentences).

Charles Boyle is the author of Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 - UK and REG Implementation. 

Written by Ellie MacKenzie

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