ILO Developments

The purpose of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is to establish a global level playing field of employment standards for seafarers, embracing the ILO concept of ‘Decent Work’. Over 80 nations have so far ratified the Convention which entered into force in 2013. This now embraces all of the major seafarer supply nations, including China, India and the Philippines, and the MLC’s provisions are now being fully enforced worldwide through Port State Control. 

Important matters covered by the MLC include the obligations of employers with respect to contractual arrangements with seafarers, oversight of manning agencies, health and safety, work hour limits, crew accommodation, catering standards and seafarers’ welfare.

Unlike IMO Conventions, the MLC was the product of ILO’s unique tripartite process. ICS was the official ILO social partner that negotiated the text on behalf of maritime employers with governments and ICS’s counterpart, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) which represents seafarers. ICS therefore has a special interest in ensuring that the MLC is being properly implemented. 

Unlike many other ILO Conventions, the ILO MLC is an organic instrument that can be subject to continuous change and is now firmly established as the fourth pillar of globally enforced maritime legislation (alongside the SOLAS, MARPOL and STCW Conventions). 

In 2016, in Geneva, ICS co-ordinated employers’ representatives from over 20 national shipowners’ associations at the second meeting of the Special Tripartite Committee (STC). The STC was established to keep the working of the MLC under continuous review and to consider proposals for further amendments. 

The 2016 Tripartite meeting agreed to an ICS proposal to harmonise provisions related to the renewal of Maritime Labour Certificates with similar certificate renewal provisions as are contained in other international maritime instruments. The STC also agreed amendments highlighting the importance of health and safety on board ships and proposed that account should be taken of new voluntary Guidance on Eliminating Shipboard Harassment and Bullying, which is now being jointly promoted by ICS and ITF following its launch last year. Following adoption by the ILO International Labour Conference in June 2016, these MLC amendments will now enter into force in late 2018. 

Preparations are beginning for the third Special Tripartite Committee (STC) for the MLC scheduled to be held Geneva in early 2018. The STC agenda will include the future process for the submission of amendments to the MLC, and the issue of how best to approach the payment of wages during situations of piracy. ILO correspondence groups have been formed on these issues in which ICS has participated actively. The work of these groups was reviewed at an ILO intersessional meeting in Geneva held in April 2017, with ICS co-ordinating the Shipowner Group. 

Other issues which are likely to be discussed by the STC in 2018 include flag state implementation problems; whether the MLC amendments addressing abandonment (which entered into force in January 2017) have had a positive effect, and issues arising from the reports submitted to the ILO Committee of Experts. 

Meanwhile, other MLC issues being addressed by the ICS Labour Affairs Committee during 2017 include: Australia’s interpretation of the ILO MLC concerning the maximum period of continuous seagoing service before leave is required: the expiry date of a seafarer’s contract (as stipulated by the MLC) and potential PSC difficulties. ICS is also working with ITF with the aim of producing a new handbook on the provision of welfare services to support the provisions of the MLC.

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