Guidelines on the Application of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention

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Guidelines on the Application of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention


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More than ten years have passed since the entry into force of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), which is now strictly enforced on a global basis and subject to Port State Control inspection. 

This comprehensive and definitive guide to the MLC provides practical guidance on the convention to ensure readers are prepared for the regulatory changes that will affect them.

The updated and improved fourth edition:

  • Addresses the wide range of MLC provisions including the 2022 updates, which will enter into force in December 2024, covering:
  • Appropriately-sized personal protective equipment;
  • Drinking water quality;
  • Repatriation of abandoned seafarers;
  • Repatriation of deceased seafarers;
  • Medical care;
  • Social connectivity;
  • Information on rights concerning compensation; and
  • Recording and reporting of deaths.
  • Includes practical guidance and tools not in previous editions, including checklists which help clarify requirements for compliance, including the latest 2022 amendments.
  • Is simple to navigate, using infographics and colour coding so readers can easily see what changes have been made to regulations.
  • Has been written to go hand in hand with other ICS guides on regulations, including the new edition of Guidelines on the IMO STCW Convention.

Written for shipping companies, crewing agents, superintendents, maritime colleges, flag/port state inspectors and anyone involved in the employment of seafarers, a copy of this guide should be on board every merchant ship.

Additional Information
Author International Chamber of Shipping
Publisher International Chamber of Shipping Publications
Edition Fourth Edition
Publication month 2023 - May
ISBN 978-1-913997-41-0
Shipping Weight 1.800Kg

1 Key issues, certification and enforcement and seafarers’ rights

1.1 Purpose and origins of the MLC  

1.2 Convention structure                                                                                                                                                            

1.3 Labour standards overview                                                                                                                                              

1.4 Entry into force, implementation and enforcement                                                                                          

1.5 Application                                                                                                                                                                                

1.5.1 Application to ships                                                                                                                                                      

1.5.2 Application to seafarers                                                                                                                                    

1.6 Links between the MLC, the STCW Convention and the ISM Code                                                                                

1.7 MLC explanatory note                                                                                                                                                        

2 Fundamental seafarer rights  

2.1 Freedom of association                                                                                                                                                    

2.2 Collective bargaining                                                                                                                                                          

2.3 Protection from discrimination, harassment and bullying                                                                              

2.4 Promoting diversity and inclusion in shipping                                                                                                      

3 Flag state inspection and certification  

3.1 Flag state inspections                                                                                                                                                          

3.2 Areas to be inspected                                                                                                                                                          

3.3 Inspectors’ powers                                                                                                                                                                

3.4 MLC certification                                                                                                                                                                    

3.4.1 Maritime labour certificate                                                                                                                            

3.4.2 Declaration of maritime labour compliance                                                                                      

3.4.3 Interim certificates                                                                                                                                                

4 Port state control  

4.1 Normal inspections                                                                                                                                                              

4.2 Grounds for a more detailed inspection                                                                                                                    

4.3 Detention of a ship                                                                                                                                                                

4.4 Common MLC deficiencies                                                                                                                                              

5 Minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship  

5.1 Minimum age                                                                                                                                                                            

5.2 Medical certificate                                                                                                                                                                

5.3 Training and qualifications                                                                                                                                              

5.4 Recruitment and placement                                                                                                                                            

5.4.1 General principles                                                                                                                                                

5.4.2 Government obligations                                                                                                                                  

5.4.3 Shipowner obligations                                                                                                                                        

5.4.4 Oversight of third party recruitment services                                                                                    

6 Young seafarers and the MLC  

6.1 Minimum age of seafarers                                                                                                                                                

6.2 Working hours of young seafarers                                                                                                                                

6.3 Medical certification for young seafarers                                                                                                                

6.4 Young seafarers and food and catering                                                                                                                  

6.5 Repatriation of young seafarers                                                                                                                                    

6.6 Safety and health education of young seafarers                                                                                                

7 Conditions of employment  

7.1 Shipowner obligations                                                                                                                                                        

7.2 Seafarers’ employment agreements                                                                                                                        

7.3.1 ILO minimum wage                                                                                                                                              

7.3.2 Definitions for the calculation of wages                                                                                                  

7.3.3 Overtime                                                                                                                                                                  

7.3.4 Consolidated wages                                                                                                                                            

7.3.5 General principles for payment of wage deductions                                                                      

7.4 Hours of work and rest                                                                                                                                                    

7.4.1 MLC and STCW rest requirements                                                                                                        

7.4.2 The hours of work and rest regimes                                                                                                        

7.4.3 Schedule of working                                                                                                                                          

7.4.4 Record keeping                                                                                                                                                    

7.4.5 Permitted exceptions                                                                                                                                      

7.4.6 Hours of work for young seafarers                                                                                                            

7.5 Entitlement to shore leave                                                                                                                                              

7.5.1 Calculation of entitlement for paid leave                                                                                                

7.5.2 Other considerations                                                                                                                                        

7.6 In the event of loss or foundering                                                                                                                                

7.6.1 In the event of a hostage situation                                                                                                                              

7.7 Crewing levels                                                                                                                                                                          

7.8 Career development            

8 Accommodation and recreational facilities  

8.1 Application to new and existing ships  

8.2 Ongoing compliance  

8.3 Design and construction  

8.4 Prevention of noise and vibration  

8.5 Heating, air conditioning and ventilation  

8.6 Lighting  

8.7 Living accommodation  

8.7.1 Sleeping rooms  

8.7.2 Mess rooms  

8.7.3 Hospital  

8.7.4 Laundry  

8.7.5 Facilities for engine personnel  

8.7.6 Ship’s office  

8.7.7 Sanitary facilities  

8.8 Recreational facilities  

8.8.1 Social connectivity  

8.8.2 Open decks  

8.8.3 Mail and ship visits  

8.8.4 Shore leave  

8.9 Guidance for ships constructed before the MLC entered into force  

8.9.1 Maintenance of accommodation for ships constructed before the MLC entered into force  

8.9.2 Ventilation for ships constructed before the MLC entered into force  

8.9.3 Sanitary accommodation for ships constructed before the MLC entered into force  

9 Food and catering  

9.1 Shipowners’ obligations  

9.1.1 Food storage and sufficient food  

9.1.2 Condition of galley  

9.1.3 Vermin control  

9.1.4 Drinking water  

9.2 Ships’ cooks  

9.2.1 Ship’s cook’s training  

9.3 Inspection by the master  

10 Health protection and medical care  

10.1 The provisions for health, safety and medical care  

10.2 Limitations permitted by national law for payment in the event of illness or injury  

10.3 Medical care on board ship  

10.4 Medical qualifications of seafarers  

10.5 Carriage requirements for medical equipment  

10.6 Diseases  

11 Health and safety protection  

11.1 Personal protective equipment  

11.2 Prevention of noise and vibration  

11.3 Young seafarers’ health and safety  

11.4 Other issues  

11.5 Shipowner obligations on accident prevention  

11.6 National health and safety protection and prevention programmes  

11.6.1 Instruction in occupational safety and health protection and the prevention of

occupational accidents  

11.7 Reporting and collection of statistics  

11.7.1 Investigations  

11.8 Investigation into the deaths of seafarers  

12 Shipowners’ liability to protect seafarers from the consequences of sickness, injury and death  

13 Seafarers’ welfare  

13.1 Access to shore based welfare facilities  

14 Social security  

14.1 Social security  

14.2 Seafarers’ Pension Convention  

15 Repatriation  

15.1 Shipowner obligations  

15.2 Circumstances where repatriation is required  

15.3 Costs to be met by the shipowner  

15.4 Repatriation in the event of abandonment  

15.5 Reimbursement of expenses in the event of abandonment  

16 Death in service of a seafarer  

16.1 Repatriation of a body in the event of a fatality  

16.2 The seafarer’s effects  

16.3 Seafarer compensation in the event of a fatality  

17 Complaint procedures  

17.1 On board complaints  

17.2 Complaints to other parties  

17.3 Contractual redress for seafarers  

Appendix Checklist to help masters and shipowners ensure compliance with MLC  


Ten years have passed since the global entry into force of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), which the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), as an official ILO Social Partner, negotiated with seafarers’ unions and governments prior to its adoption in 2006. ICS therefore has a special interest in promoting strict compliance by shipping companies with the ILO MLC to ensure maintenance of a global level playing field for good employment standards.

The ILO MLC is a truly ground-breaking instrument. The shipping industry is unique in being the only industrial sector to have such a comprehensive global regime in place, setting out mandatory standards for the employment of the world’s two million merchant seafarers, which are now strictly enforced by governments worldwide through a sophisticated system of flag state inspections and port state control.

Together with the International Conventions for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the ILO MLC is now recognised as the fourth key pillar of the shipping industry’s global regulatory framework.

ICS is committed to helping shipping companies provide decent work for the seafarers they employ, and the latest edition of these Guidelines provides detailed information about compliance with the ILO Convention and the obligations of maritime employers which the ILO MLC sets out. This includes new information about best practice and amendments made to the Convention since 2013, most recently in 2022 in response to some of the challenges presented by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

These Guidelines are likely to be particularly helpful to senior managers in shipping companies and crewing agencies, including personnel and human resources managers, as well as masters and senior officers serving on board merchant ships. In view of the potential overlap of ILO MLC requirements with the IMO International Safety Management (ISM) Code, these ICS Guidelines should also be useful for designated persons ashore as defined by ISM requirements.

The ILO MLC sets out a wide range of mandatory obligations which a ship’s flag state must require shipping companies to comply with fully. The aim of this new edition of these ICS Guidelines is to provide an updated overview of the MLC provisions to which maritime employers are required to adhere, both in the best interests of crew welfare and for safe and efficient ship operations.

Seafarers are entitled to expect that their fundamental rights will always be respected, irrespective of the flag of the ship on which they serve or their country of residence. Shipping was the very first globalised industry before the word globalisation had even been coined. Ships may be owned in one country, managed from another, registered in a third country and crewed by seafarers from many others. The industry would be unable to function effectively without robust labour standards which are universally applicable to all ships trading around the world.

This fourth edition of these ICS Guidelines builds on the previous editions and draws on practical experience gained since the Convention entered into force. It includes detailed extracts from the MLC, which have been colour coded to help understanding of the various Regulations, Standards and Guidelines. The latest ILO MLC requirements agreed in 2022 are also highlighted for ease of reference.

In summary, the latest edition of these ICS Guidelines:

• Sets out the fundamental rights of seafarers and responsibilities of employers under the MLC;

• Shows how the MLC applies to ships flagged to ratifying countries, as well as to ships which, regardless of whether or not their flag state has ratified the Convention, will be subject to port state control; and

• Identifies common deficiencies found during port state control so that the ship operator can see where things can potentially go wrong;

• Includes the ILO MLC 2022 amendments (entering into force by December 2024), which draw from lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, to improve the living and working conditions of seafarers by ensuring that:

– Seafarers have appropriately-sized personal protective equipment (PPE);

– Good quality drinking water is available free of charge for seafarers;

– States further facilitate the prompt repatriation of abandoned seafarers;

– States provide medical care for seafarers in need of immediate assistance and facilitate the repatriation of the remains of seafarers who have died on board;

– Seafarers are provided with appropriate social connectivity by shipowners and states provide internet access in their ports;

– Seafarers are informed of their rights relating to the obligation of recruitment and placement services to compensate seafarers for monetary losses; and

– All deaths of seafarers are recorded and reported annually to the ILO and the relevant data is published.

• Includes colour coding to distinguish mandatory parts from guidance; and

• Features a clearer layout and includes infographics and visual aids to improve reader experience.

For the vast majority of seafarers, employment conditions at sea will comfortably exceed those which they could obtain in comparative shore-based employment in their countries of residence. Generous leave and excellent pay and working conditions are just some of the many factors which encourage seafarers, of all nationalities, to pursue a career at sea. But the continuous improvement of good employment practice, embracing ILO MLC standards, is crucial to the ability of shipping to attract and retain the dedicated and high calibre workforce on which the future of the industry will depend.