Roger Harris, Executive Director of ISWAN writes :
The International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) warmly welcomes the coming into force of the Maritime Labour Convention on 20 August 2013. ISWAN firmly believes that the MLC will improve the lives and wellbeing of seafarers wherever they are in the world. The Convention provides a golden opportunity to raise awareness of seafarers' welfare throughout the maritime industry. ISWAN is committed to working in partnership with shipping companies, union, seafarers' welfare organisations, and governments to ensure that the MLC is fully implemented over the coming years.
In particular, ISWAN believes a lot needs to be done to see that Regulation 4.4 (access to shore-based welfare facilities) becomes a reality. Port owners and port authorities will need to become more aware of the MLC and realise that seafarers are key stakeholders, along with port workers, logistic companies, and shipping agents. Some ports, such as Singapore, Barcelona, Antwerp, and Kandla (past winners of the Port of the Year International Seafarers' Welfare Awards) work well with local seafarers welfare organisations and are models of good practice.
The MLC talks about welfare facilities 'where they exist'. However, it is important to establish welfare facilities and services in the growing new number of new ports around the world, particularly in countries such as India and China. ISWAN would also like to see more national welfare boards and local port welfare committees set up.
Funding of seafarers' welfare is a big issue as many welfare organisations struggle to survive. ISWAN would welcome the implementation of port levies to help fund sustainable welfare services and facilities. With seafarers being onboard for long periods, often with little opportunity for going ashore, a welfare worker visiting ships bringing phonecards and portable wifi is a vital lifeline. Indeed, communication with home is the number one welfare concern for seafarers. Ports and shipping companies need to do more to provide free or cheap access to email and internet for seafarers. Ports such as Antwerp, Montreal, and Dover now provide free access for seafarers to portwide wifi.
Seafarers are responsible for transporting 90% of the world's trade. They are often invisible and their vital role in the wider public's everyday lives unknown. The MLC provides a means of ensuring that seafarers are treated with the dignity and respect they richly deserve.