The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).
What? Why? How?
Ashore, there are labour standards to protect employees. But what if you are working at sea? That is where the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) comes in. Shipping is a global industry, which explains the need for universal standards. What’s more, it is important that these standards are easy to understand, readily updateable and uniformly enforced.
What is Maritime Labour Convention?
The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is the “fourth pillar” of the IMO’s international regulatory regime for quality shipping. This international agreement of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), sets out seafarers’ rights in accordance to decent conditions of work. Commonly referred to as the ‘Seafarers’ Bill of Rights’, the convention was adopted by government, employer and workers representatives at an ILO Conference in 2006.
The MLC covers all possible working and living conditions on-board including
• Minimum age
• Seafarers’ employment agreements
• Hours of work or rest
• Payment of wages
• Paid annual leave
• Repatriation at the end of contract
• On-board medical care
• The use of licensed private recruitment and placement services
• Accommodation, food and catering
• Health and safety protection and accident prevention and
• Seafarers’ complaint handling
Why is the Maritime Labour Convention so important?
Firstly, because it brings together international minimum standards in one central place. This assists with ensuring comprehensive worldwide protection for an estimated 1.5 million seafarers. Seafarers are essential to international trade and tourism. Under the MLC 2006 every seafarer has the right to:
• A safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards
• Fair terms of employment
• Decent working and living conditions on-board a ship
• Health protection, medical care, welfare measures and other forms of social protection
Second, because it helps level the playing field. This allows fair competition for member states and shipowners operating under the flag of countries that have ratified. The goal is to ensure that adequate working conditions go hand in hand with fair competition.
Enforcing the Maritime Labour Convention
In 2013 the MLC became binding law for 30 countries. As of January 2019, a total of 90 countries ratified the MLC 2006. This means that 91% of the world’s shipping fleet is regulated.
On ratification, the state has 12 months to enforce and adhere to convention requirements. The flag state has the authority and responsibility to implement the global standards. Commercially operated ships, 500gt or over, covered by the MLC require a certificate of compliance from their flag state. The two specific documents required are the Maritime Labour Certificate (MLC) and the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance (DMLC). When ships enter the port of an MLC country, Port State Authorities will carry out an inspection for possible violations. Inspections are an important aspect of the convention and also apply to ships that don’t fly the flag of an MLC member state.
“Ben Bailey, director of advocacy and regional engagement at The Mission to Seafarers reckons that the MLC has brought huge benefits to seafarers around the world. However, the fact that it is not in force everywhere means that too many crews are falling through the gap, particularly when they find themselves abandoned. A significant change to the convention would be for the international community to work to enforce the convention and to put pressure on those states which have not signed up to the MLC to do so”.
Facing MLC 2006 survey for the first time?
Here are a few important points to consider before requesting a surveyor onboard for inspection.
- Ensure the DMLC-part-1 and DMLC-part-2, signed by the company’s DPA or manager, are always present and accessible on-board.
- Seafarers should have the right to lodge a complaint directly with the master and also with appropriate external authorities when necessary. Ensure crew are provided with the on-board complaint procedure.
- Ensure a signed copy of seafarer employment certificate is provided to all seafarers. Seafarer employment agreement (SEA), SEA should be in accordance with MLC 2006.
- Collective Bargain Agreement must be available on-board. This document details all the terms and conditions of the crew employed on the ship.
- Rest hour records, on-board work and watch-keeping schedules, must be up to date and on display.
- Wage bill records and wage slips should be readily available with all crew in time of inspection.
- Every vessel should have a mess committee on-board, conducting and recording regular meetings for crew suggestions and improvement of food prepared. Records must be available for the inspection of surveyor.
- The inspector often checks the qualification certificates of the cook and catering staff. Ensure certificates of qualification and training of cooks is ready.
- All crew members working on-board should be qualified and have all official documents as per STCW, flag state endorsements and equivalents. The minimum age limit for a person to work on board as per MLC-2006 is sixteen years. Ensure all the certificates are available along with the originals for inspection if asked.
- Every seafarer has to submit medical certificate to the master. Medical certificates of crew on-board should be valid and meet the international standards required by ILO/ WHO guidelines. Ensure that the certificate is not expiring during the period of voyage.
- Master must make sure the vessel adheres to safe manning requirements as issued by the flag state. A copy of safe manning certificate must be available.
- A copy of Recruitment and Placement Service Certificate must be available and the manning agency should follow the guidelines of MLC-2006 and national labour laws for recruitment. In case of ownership employment a licensed manning agency is not necessary, provided that owner recruits as per MLC – 2006 and national labour laws recommendations.
- Crew interviews will take place and cover working condition, food, treatment, facilities on-board and wages. Apart from this, questions may also probe crew’s knowledge on anything related and applicable.
- The auditor will inspect housekeeping and hygiene, galley, mess room, dry and perishable provision stores, reefers, cabins and common toilets. These places should be neat, tidy and hygienic.
- All-important certificates must be available for Inspection. Also make sure the IMO publications and other required documents are present on-board at the time of survey.
Maritime Labour Convention changes on the horizon
The MLC is considered a major milestone for global shipping environment in realising the rights of seafarers. However, there have been increasing calls for amendments to the convention in order to keep it up to date and relevant. The stresses associated with COVID-19 as well as technology advancements are just some of the factors that need to be addressed. The MLC is due to be amended in April 2021. All suggestions from signatories to the bill were submitted to the Geneva headquarters of the International Labour Organization (ILO) by 1 October 2020. Keep an eye on our info-hub for updates.
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