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The Seafarers' Rights Bill Becomes a Reality

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Cleo Doumbia-Henry, Internatonal Director of Labour Standards, International Labour Organisation, writes :

The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006) has entered into force on 20 August 2013 and is now binding international law. It is a therefore a monumental day for seafarers worldwide. They will now all become familiar, if they have not yet done so, with their Bill of Rights which is intended to deliver for them decent working and living conditions on board ship but also ashore. For the more than 1.5 million seafarers who work at sea and so far away from home, many months at a time, the MLC, 2006 should have significant meaning for them.

Under the MLC, 2006, in addition to their right to enjoy and benefit from fundamental principles and rights at work, seafarers have a right to a safe and secure workplace, to fair terms of employment, to decent working and living conditions on board ship and to health protection, medical care, welfare measures and other forms of social protections. Seafarers' right to welfare measures are contained in Titles 3 and 4 of the Convention and they include both on-board and on-shore welfare facilities.

The MLC, 2006 contains a very strong in-built compliance and enforcement mechanism to ensure that the Convention effectively delivers for those for whom it is intended to benefit: the world's seafarers and shipowners who are committed to providing decent work to seafarers working on board their ships irrespective of race, colour, sex, religion, national extraction or social origin. Among the 14 items that must be inspected by flag State inspectors and port State control officers are: seafarers' employment agreements, hours of work or rest, manning levels, accommodation , on-board recreational facilities, food and catering, health and safety and accident prevention, on board medical care and payment of wages. Seafarers will now have a right to file complaints and to use the on-board complaint procedures that must be in place on every ship navigating internationally.

According to the well-known saying "the test of the pudding must be in the eating". Will the MLC, 2006 deliver on expectations? This is absolutely necessary in the global environment in which we live and in particular when we are speaking of the most globalized of all industries that impact on the daily lives of all of us. Effective implementation in law and in practice must now be the focus while we continue to ensure that all countries with a maritime interest do come on board to make the forth pillar of the international maritime regime a reality. We need to ensure that all countries adopt the necessary legal or regulatory framework and that we see the reality of shipboard implementation materialize. All maritime stakeholders must now do their part. The ILO must continue to provide support and assistance where required.

With decent work on board ships worldwide meeting the requirements of the MLC, 2006, not only will seafarers benefit, but so will shipowners and the industry. The MLC, 2006 can and will contribute to attracting more young people to the industry, to productivity and the level playing field.

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