The International Labour Organization (ILO) is calling on governments to treat seafarers as key workers and to cooperate to make vaccines available to them at the earliest opportunity, to allow them to pass through international borders and keep global supply chains moving.
These appeals are reflected in two resolutions adopted during the Special Tripartite Committee (STC) of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006), which brought together more than 100 governments, seafarers and shipowners, who met virtually from 19 to 23 April 2021 to review the impact of COVID-19 on the maritime sector.
The Resolution concerning the implementation and practical application of the MLC, 2006 during the COVID-19 pandemic renews calls for States to designate and treat seafarers as key workers and take all necessary steps to ensure that they can travel to and from their country or place of residence and their place of work, and obtain medical care ashore as well as shore leave.
States are called upon to take all necessary steps to ensure that seafarers are not required to stay on board a vessel longer than the period specified in their seafarer’s employment agreement, without their consent, and under no circumstances for longer than the maximum period of service stipulated by the MLC, 2006.
The Resolution concerning COVID-19 vaccination for seafarers calls on governments, in accordance with their national vaccination programmes, to make supplies of World Health Organization Emergency Use List (WHO-EUL) vaccines available for seafarers on ships visiting ports in their territories, and for governments to consider establishing vaccination hubs for seafarers in ports.
It encourages States to accept vaccines given to seafarers by other States and, in consultation with shipowners’ and seafarers’ organizations and in coordination with the WHO and International Maritime Organization (IMO), to consider establishing an international programme for seafarers that will facilitate access to vaccinations ashore.
The STC also agreed to actions to restore the full respect of seafarers’ rights under the MLC, 2006, and called for the convening of a United Nations inter-agency task force to examine the implementation and practical application of the Convention during the pandemic, including its impact on seafarers’ fundamental rights and on the shipping industry.
It further made recommendations concerning the status of more than 30 maritime labour standards concerning seafarers, many of which have been revised by the MLC, 2006. By 2030 the majority of those standards should be abrogated by the International Labour Conference, leaving the MLC, 2006 as the up-to-date ILO instrument in the maritime field.
'The Special Tripartite Committee had a productive meeting this week, despite being unable to meet in person. It completed its review of maritime-related international labour standards and adopted two valuable resolutions which seek to alleviate the difficulties faced by seafarers during this last year, due to COVID-19 restrictions,' said Julie Carlton, Chairperson of the Committee.
Speaking for the Shipowners, Dr Max Johns said that the resolutions were 'clear statements of ambition to get seafarers vaccinated at the earliest opportunity, which is the only way to secure an unhindered global supply of goods, not least food and medicine.' 'Shipowners', he added, expect that 'the MLC, 2006 and all of its conditions apply under all circumstances.'
Speaking on behalf of the Seafarers, Mark Dickinson noted that the meeting had 'started the process of learning the lessons, with a determination to make a difference and learn from the mistakes of this pandemic.' 'The meeting', he said, 'had adopted two resolutions that were important not only in terms of progress and process, but as a visible recognition of the importance of seafarers to the industry.'