The impending ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 has implications for mariners around the world. MLC has been called the "fourth pillar" of international maritime law, joining SOLAS, MARPOL, and STCW. Like all these other pillars, compliance with MLC may be forced on all nations -- even those, like the United States, that haven't ratified the treaty -- if they wish to have their ships welcomed in the ports of nations that have ratified.
When the MLC, 2006, comes into force and is effectively
implemented in all countries with a maritime interest:
• all seafarers, whatever their nationality, serving on a ship
to which the Convention applies, whatever flag it flies, will
have decent working and living conditions and an ability
to have concerns addressed where conditions do not meet
the requirements of the Convention;
• various mechanisms in the Convention will serve to ensure,
to the greatest extent possible, that the Convention requirements
are respected, even on the ships that fly the flag of
countries that do not ratify the Convention;
• governments and shipowners committed to establishing decent
working and living conditions for seafarers will have
a level playing field with strong protection against unfair
competition from substandard ships.
The MLC has not come into force yet, but is on track to be in place by 2012. The treaty requires that 30 nations ratify in order for it to become effective and, while only ten have so far the European Union has encourage all its members to do so. The treaty's second condition requires that nations representing at least 33-percent of the world's tonnage ratify, which has already occurred.
Central to the MLC is the "Seafarer's Bill of Rights" which seeks to correct a perceived imbalance in working conditions and benefits between (civilian) mariners and workers ashore. Among the provisions of the "Seafarer's Bill of Rights":
- required statutory holidays
- 2-1/2 days leave per month worked, which must be taken every year (with the shipowner paying repatriation costs)
- mandatory grievance procedures, including crew representatives for crews larger than five people
- contributions to social security
- access to prompt medical care
- guaranteed repatriation for medical reasons, or if the vessel stops operating or is sold
- employment contracts
- working hours limited to 14 in any 24-hour period, 72 in any seven-day period.
MLC also puts forth new requirements for crew accommodations and facilities for vessels built after 2012, including requirements that crew quarters be built above the vessel's load line except in special circumstances. The MLC also defines certain minimum areas for each crew member, limits the number of crew the can share a single head, etc. On all except passenger vessels, it requires a separate sleeping room for each crew member. Eventually, every vessel will have to meet these requirements, no matter when it was built.
For the text of the Convention, available from the International Labour Organization website, click here.