The International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) came into effect internationally on 20 August 2013, bringing with it sweeping changes to the minimum working and living standards for all seafarers on more than 90% of the world’s gross tonnage of ships, including commercially registered superyachts.
To mark the fifth anniversary of the MLC, I recently spoke to representatives of three ratifying ship registries – the Isle of Man, Marshall Islands and Cayman Islands – to better understand how each has navigated this seismic shift in the nautical workforce landscape.
When did your flag state ratify the MLC?
Martyn Oates, Policy & Research Officer, Isle of Man Ship Registry (IOM): As a British Crown Dependency, the Isle of Man is not a member of ILO in its own right. Rather, the Convention was ratified by the United Kingdom and extended to the Isle of Man on 7 August 2013. It then came into effect on 20 August 2013 in line with the international enforcement date. It is given effect by the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) Regulations 2013.
Captain John K. Hafner, Vice President, Seafarers’ Manning & Training, IRI / The Marshall Islands Registry (MI): The Republic of the Marshall Islands was one of the first flag states to ratify the MLC. Our ratification date was 25 September 2007.
Angus McLean, Chief Advisor - Policy, Quality and Casualty Investigation, Cayman Islands Shipping Registry (CI): As per the Isle of Man, the Cayman Islands became subject to the Convention through the UK. The UK is the signatory and their ratification was extended to Cayman on 13 February 2014.
What was the biggest challenge encountered for your registry in implementing MLC?
IOM: In the Isle of Man the biggest challenge was to ensure that our regulations and guidance notes (MLNs) were in place so that the Convention could be applied to Manx ships as soon as it entered into force internationally. In order to achieve this, we assembled a team of four staff members who worked exclusively on MLC implementation for over two years. As a responsible flag state, we are always keen to ensure that our international obligations are met at the earliest opportunity, particularly on a matter as important as seafarers’ rights.
MI: When the MLC came into force in August 2013, it was anticipated that there may be an issue tracking, handling and responding to complaints received. However, IRI has 28 worldwide offices, and with decentralised registry services we have sufficient legal, regulatory affairs, and seafarers teams worldwide to take care of all MLC complaint responses.
CI: In the Cayman Islands our biggest challenge was in applying prescriptive requirements designed for large merchant ships to commercial yachts in a proactive and practical way. Much has been achieved in this area through applying substantial equivalences such as the REG Yacht Code and others developed and agreed in consultation with both ship owners and seafarer organisations.
Looking back over the last five years, if you were to choose one implemented element of the MLC, which in your opinion has had the biggest impact and why?
IOM: The requirements of Regulation 2.1 (Seafarer’s Employment Agreements (SEAs)) have caused a significant change for the better. A clear, written statement of employment terms is something that was often not available for seafarers prior to MLC. Mandatory SEAs help to avoid disputes or misunderstandings and have made seafarers more aware of their employment rights.
MI: Regarding our commercially registered yachts, in addition to ‘Title 2. Conditions of employment’ (which covers the aforementioned SEAs as well as other important factors such as wage and repatriation protection), I believe the section of the MLC, 2006 that will have had the biggest impact on seafarers’ lives is ‘Title 4. Health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection’.
CI: For the Cayman Islands, the vast majority of MLC requirements were already part of our Merchant Shipping Law. Rather than any one MLC element making an impact, we’ve found that the greatest impact has been in raising awareness of the rights and obligations of both seafarers and ship owners in relation to ships and yachts subject to the Convention.
In conclusion, it is clear that the MLC has had a far reaching effect on the work carried out by flag states worldwide. And, as you’d expect from what is largely an amalgamation of existing legislation, the Convention continues to evolve.
Already since 2014, three amendments to the MLC have been approved by the International Labour Conference – one of which is already in force, while the second will be enforced very shortly (January 2019) and the third is set for implementation within the next couple of years (January 2021).
These amendments cover such areas as continuation of SEAs in cases of piracy or armed robbery against ships, financial security of seafarers in cases of abandonment, contractual claims for compensation in the event of a seafarer’s death or long-term disability due to an operational injury or illness and shipboard harassment and bullying.
Of course, it won’t stop there. As a truly organic piece of legislation, as well as ironing out any existing wrinkles, further amendments will be proposed and agreed as new vessel capabilities, crew requirements and scenarios emerge.
Chris Nicholls is a manager for First Names Group in the Isle of Man. He is an integral part of our Private Client Yachting and Aviation team, focused on the provision of expert solutions in respect of superyacht and high-value aircraft ownership and administration.
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