GENEVA (ILO News) – The International Labour Organization today overwhelmingly adopted a comprehensive new labour standard for the world's maritime sector, in what ILO Director-General Juan Somavia called a landmark development in the world of work.
The new Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 was adopted by a vote of 314 for, with no votes against and four abstentions at the 94th International Labour Conference (Maritime) , held here on 7-23 February. The vote marked overwhelming support by delegates from more than 100 countries representing seafarers, shipowners and governments.
"We have made maritime labour history today", Mr. Somavia said. "We have adopted a Convention that spans continents and oceans, providing a comprehensive labour charter for the world's 1.2 million or more seafarers and addressing the evolving realities and needs of a sector that handles 90 per cent of the world's trade."
"What's more, we have established a socio-economic floor to global competition in the maritime sector", Mr. Somavia said. "This initiative can also provide the impetus and support for similarly innovative and balanced approaches to addressing the need to make globalization fair in other sectors of the world of work."
The new Convention clearly sets out, in plain language, a seafarers' "bill of rights" while allowing a sufficient degree of national discretion to deliver those rights with transparency and accountability. The Convention also contains provisions allowing it to keep in step with the needs of the industry, and help secure universal application and enforcement.
Its provisions will help to meet the demand for quality shipping, which is crucial to the global economy. The Convention will apply to all ships engaged in commercial activities with the exception of fishing vessels and traditional ships (such as dhows and junks).
The Conference heard statements from four special guests: Mr. Efthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Mr. Jacques Barrot, European Commission Vice-President responsible for Transport, Mr. Zuyuan Xu, Vice Minister, Ministry of Communications, China, and Ms. Karin Yrvin, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Norway.
Minimum requirements for decent work in the maritime industry
The new Convention is designed to encourage compliance by operators and owners of ships and strengthen enforcement of standards at all levels, including provisions for onboard and onshore complaint procedures for seafarers regarding the shipowners' and shipmasters' supervision of conditions on their ships, the flag States' jurisdiction and control over their ships.
The Convention sets minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship and contains provisions on conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection.
Among the novel features of the Convention are its form and structure with legally binding standards accompanied by directions given by guidelines. It departs significantly from that of traditional ILO Conventions . Its amendment procedures are rapid and, most importantly, it sets out a system for the certification of seafarers' labour conditions.
Under the new Convention, ships that are larger than 500 GT and engaged in international voyages or voyages between foreign ports will be required to carry a "Maritime Labour Certificate" and a "Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance". The Declaration sets out shipowners' plans for ensuring that applicable national laws, regulations or other measures required to implement the Convention are complied with on an ongoing basis. Shipmasters will then be responsible for carrying out the ship-owners' stated plans and keeping proper records to provide evidence of compliance with the Convention. The flag State will review the shipowners' plans and verify and certify that they are in place and being implemented. This will put pressure on shipowners that disregard the law, but will remove pressure from those that comply.
Other innovative features of the Convention include: accelerated amendment procedures to update its technical provisions to address changes in the sector; onboard and onshore complaint procedures to encourage rapid resolution of problems, if possible; a complaint and inspection system linked with the well-established ILO supervisory system; provisions ensuring that, should a flag State delegate certain inspection and enforcement functions to a recognized organization, such as a classification society, the organization will have to meet specific criteria for independence and expertise; and, a modernized management based approach to occupational safety and health.
The new Convention consolidates and updates 68 existing ILO maritime Conventions and Recommendations adopted since 1920. Countries that do not ratify the new Convention will remain bound by the previous Conventions that they have ratified, although those instruments will be closed to further ratification.
The Convention received strong support from representatives of the ILO's tripartite social partners. Brian Orrell, the Seafarer Vice-President of the Conference from the United Kingdom said "We believe that the agreement we have concluded will make a significant contribution to ensuring decent work at sea and making a real difference to the lives and life chances of many of the world's seafarers."
Mr. Dierk Lindemann of Germany, the Conference Vice-President for the Shipowners said "it may have seemed a long road, but we have got to the end of it and we have made history. We now have a single maritime labour standards Convention embracing virtually all we need in order to establish a uniform and acceptable regime for the world's seafarers."
Mr. Bruce Carlton of the US, who chaired the Committee of the Whole said "This Convention is unique in that it has teeth. What is fundamentally different about this Convention is that it is about quality shipping. Beyond improving the working conditions of seafarers, it is also about further marginalizing the bad shipowners who end up costing the entire industry. This is a very sound economic benefit for the entire industry".
Mr. Somavia said in conclusion that the Convention marked a new departure in the pursuit of a fair globalization by making "the rules of the game fair for everybody. At the same time, the market should have the necessary space to perform its key functions for the economy and for society. In the search for solutions it has become more and more evident that there can be no lasting success with purely national solutions to global problems".
The next step will be the ratification of the Convention. Care has been taken through a blend of firmness and flexibility to make its provisions acceptable to all countries with an interest in the maritime sector, so that it becomes the "fourth pillar" of international maritime regulatory regime, at the side of the three key IMO Conventions, namely the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Convention (STCW) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). The Convention will come into force after it has been ratified by 30 ILO member States with a total share of at least 33 per cent of world gross tonnage.
"What we now need to do is to work together to ensure that the next stages have the same dynamism and the same strength that you have given to the formulation of the Convention", Mr. Somavia said.