Steve Cotton, ITF (International Transport Workers' Federation) acting general secretary, writes :
In just a few days the ILO's Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) comes into force. Correctly applied, it is nothing less than a bill of rights under which all seafarers should be able to enjoy protection of their fundamental rights. It should also ensure good employment practice across the industry and create a level playing field in which good ship operators are not undercut by bad ones.
For the first time, all seafarers should have access to fundamental rights that ensure fair employment. Importantly the convention also stipulates that everyone working on board a cruise ship is a seafarer and entitled to the protections it guarantees. These include the right to a safe and secure workplace; fair terms of employment; decent living and working conditions; access to medical care, health protection and welfare.
The provisions on welfare have considerable potential. States will be invited to consider the upgrading of existing seafarers' welfare facilities and to establish new ones. They will also be invited to set up welfare board committees intended to bring together port authorities, welfare, shipowners' and seafarers' organisations, port state control, the local community, and all those who have an interest in seafarers' welfare. Member states will also have to facilitate seafarers' shore leave and transit.
The MLC sets out minimum rights and incorporates and builds on 68 existing maritime labour conventions and recommendations to ensure decent working and living conditions. It has taken over 10 years hard work to reach this momentous point and now is not the time to relax. Implementation must be continuously monitored, awareness raised, problems recognised, and the convention itself built upon. Follow-up work on abandonment and crew claims will begin next year. Meanwhile the pressure must be kept up on more countries to ratify the MLC. The more there are the more successful it is likely to be.
So the work continues. Without it the future would be uncertain. With it we believe that the MLC represents the biggest single advance for seafarers for many years, and an opportunity that we all – whether as unions, seafarers, welfare organisations, shipowners, governments or shipping organisations – must proudly embrace.
To find out more about how the MLC can help you as a seafarer please visit www.itfseafarers.org/ILOMLC.cfm