A long journey worth taking: Seafarers now have minimum global working rights that need to be enforced

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

New minimum global standards for seafarers living and working conditions have come into effect this week – but the challenge now will be enforcing them.


The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006) consolidates and updates more than 68 international labour standards in the maritime sector.


The UK ratified the International Labour Organization convention earlier this month after a lengthy consultation process involving a number of government departments, Nautilus International, the RMT union, the UK Chamber of Shipping, and others.


From this week, all commercially-operated ships over 500 tons that fly the flag of any of the 30 countries covered by the Convention will be required to carry the Maritime Labour Certificate and the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance.


Until now, seafarers on international voyages did not have the basic rights that apply in the UK, such as minimum age and payment of wages. The MLC 2006 covers every aspect of work and life at sea including onboard medical care, health and safety and accident prevention.


These new measures for seafarers are long overdue. But, as ever, the challenge will be how effectively to police the Convention to ensure that employers adhere to the new regulations at all times. It is not enough to just set the bar – you need to be able to enforce it. That means you need an accessible system and confidence that if you use it you will get a fair result.


All this comes at a time when government cuts such as those to the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency will inevitably make it harder to enforce new seafarer standards. When you add the real practical difficulty that the international nature of voyages means that employment abuses in the maritime industry can be more difficult to identify than in other sectors, enforcement is an even bigger issue than it might at first sight appear.


The MLC 2006 does not apply directly to ship-owners, ships or sea farers and relies on ratifying countries to enforce the standards through their national laws or other measures. Therefore the UK must ensure that it has measures in place which will enable it to adhere to the Convention.


Figures from the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency show that there are approximately 89,000 seafarers working on UK flagged ships and more than 24,100 UK nationals work as seafarers.


It has taken a long time to secure basic minimum of standards for seafarers globally, and this is a positive step. However Seafarers globally will need support to ensure their employment rights are enforced.


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