From the TUC

All aboard! UK just makes deadline for ILO Maritime Labour Convention

07 Aug 2013, by in Working Life

Today’s ratification of the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) by the British Government (13 days before the 20 August deadline for it coming into force globally) is a welcome development.

Despite joint calls by the RMT, Nautilus International and the British Chamber of Shipping, backed by the TUC, it had been feared that the current government’s addiction to the mantra of deregulation and in some quarters the apparent insatiable appetite to attack even the most basic protections for workers, would mean that the UK was one of the few countries with a major shipping industry not to sign up.

As the unions pointed out not signing would have meant both that seafarers on British ships risked having worse conditions than others and due to the way the convention will be enforced, would have meant British ships would have been at a serious commercial disadvantage and would probably have resulted in owners moving their ship registrations to other national jurisdictions.

The MLC aims to provide comprehensive rights and protection at work for the world’s more than 1.2 million seafarers. The convention is designed to support decent work for seafarers and to protect the economic interests of those ship-owners who do try and play by the rules by ensuring a level playing field and preventing a race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions.

The convention consolidates and updates more than 68 ILO international labour standards related to the Maritime sector which have been adopted over the last 80 years.

As the ILO introduction to the convention says, it “sets out seafarers’ rights to decent conditions of work on a wide range of subjects, and aims to be globally applicable, easily understandable, readily updatable and uniformly enforced.” It is designed to be the “fourth pillar” of the international regulatory regime for quality shipping, complementing the key Conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which deal with issues such as ship security and safety, environmental impact and seafarers’ certification.

Amongst other areas the MLC’s provisions seek to ensure seafarers get;

  • a safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards
  • fair terms of employment
  • decent working and living conditions on board ship
  • health protection, medical care, welfare measures and other forms of social protection.

There was unanimity during the negotiations that led to the convention that the shipping industry as “the world’s first genuinely global industry . . . requires an international regulatory response of an appropriate kind – global standards applicable to the entire industry”. British worker-, employer- and government reps played an active part in the negotiations and it is to be hoped that this will provide lessons for other sectors of the global economy that also need this comprehensive approach.

Of course signing up is only a start. The proof of the government and industry commitment to the convention will be shown in how it is enforced in practice and as the TUC general secretary highlighted when welcoming the ratification the cuts to the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency will of course have a negative impact on this.

Another issue is that whilst the government have signed up on behalf of the United Kingdom and the authorities in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man have also agreed to abide by it, meaning 16.57 million tons of shipping and 89,000 workers should be covered, Bermuda which has 11 million tons+ of shipping registered, including several large cruise companies who all fly the Red Ensign has so far not committed to sign.

So there is much work still to do, but as I hope Ernest Bevin who helped to negotiate the very first ILO standards covering the Maritime sector back in the 1920s, would have agreed some progress is better than none and our task now is to support the organising campaigns in the sector to make sure all seafarers on British registered vessels and beyond get the rights they are entitled to.