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An expert's guide to the Maritime Labour Convention

28 December 2018

The Maritime Labour Convention is a vital piece of global regulation, setting out seafarers' rights to decent conditions of work wherever they may be and whatever sort of vessel they are serving on. Now a Nautilus official has put pen to paper to provide an expert guide to the implementation and enforcement of the 'fourth pillar' of international maritime law. ANDREW LININGTON reports…

Charles Boyle, director of Nautilus legal services, has gone into print – as the author of an important new book about the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006.

Running to more than 600 pages, the book – Maritime Labour Convention, 2006: UK and REG Implementation – aims to provide clear, concise and expert insight into the ways in which the UK and the Red Ensign Group flag states Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man have put the provisions of the so-called seafarers' bill of rights into law and guidance.

The book sets out the precise provisions which apply to those ships and, in addition, foreign ships visiting ports or territorial waters in the relevant states.

Charles – a trained barrister who has worked for the Union since 2007 – devoted a year of evenings, weekends and annual leave to research and write the book, which is published by Bloomsbury Professional.

'It's my first book,' says Charles, 'and the nearest thing I have done was the dissertation for my master's degree, which ran to almost 15,000 words looking at the laws relating to privacy in the workplace.

'I came up with the idea of doing the book through my work on the MLC – especially my involvement in the UK's tripartite working group,' he explains. 'It occurred to me that there was no specialist book covering the UK's implementation of the convention, and I thought it would also be a good idea to extend it to the REG flag states who are subject to the MLC.

It occurred to me that there was no specialist book covering the UK's implementation of the convention, and I thought it would also be a good idea to extend it to the REG flag states who are subject to the MLC

'I approached Bloomsbury Professional with the idea for the book,and I am grateful to them for showing faith in me and taking the proposal on,' he adds. 'They have been excellent to deal with throughout the whole process.'

Charles says the book will be of use to maritime lawyers, employment lawyers, seafarers' unions, masters and officers, shipowners, crewing agents, P&I clubs, classification societies, flag administrations, colleges and universities – 'basically anyone who has a need to know about MLC conditions onboard ships flagged with one of these countries or any other ship entering their ports or territorial waters'.

He says he went to great lengths to include relevant legal references and citations whilst also seeking to ensure the book is written and presented in an accessible way. He also asked the UK and REG maritime administrations to check the book for accuracy and provide feedback.

The outside observer might think that 'the MLC is the MLC', and wonder why a book is needed to explain how five flag states are implementing and enforcing it. However, Charles points out, different countries have different legal systems, and the book explains how they have brought the MLC into line with their existing legislation in such areas as employment law, and health and safety regulations.

It sets out, for instance, how compliance with MLC provisions such as annual leave can vary according to an individual state's laws and number of public holidays.

As well as detailing the relevant MLC-related laws, the book explains how MLC requirements are also met through merchant shipping notices and marine guidance notes (MSNs and MGNs), and identifies the areas where implementation is permitted by way of collective agreements.

In terms of enforcement, Charles notes, the UK and other REG members have created a number of criminal offences for non-compliance, and there are also differences in how the flag states deal with port state control enforcement. This may be especially important for owners and operators of foreign ships visiting ports in the UK and the REG member states – particularly if they are not flagged with an MLC state, as they could easily fall foul of the law.

'A lot of the MLC legislation refers to other IMO instruments, such as the STCW Convention, so there was a need for me to research that too,' Charles adds. 'Again, the individual flag states have different provisions in their domestic regulations for the implementation of certification and training requirements.'

Another important difference is the influence of European Union directives on MLC compliance and enforcement upon the UK and Gibraltar, especially in the area of health and safety.

The book explains the background to the MLC, which came into force internationally in August 2013, and it follows the structure of the convention for the UK and other REG members in setting out the five key areas – or 'titles' – that it covers: minimum requirements to work on a ship; conditions of employment; accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering; health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection; and compliance and enforcement.

The MLC has been designed as a 'living' convention, and there is also a section in the book detailing the first amendments, which were introduced in 2014 and established the 'financial security' provisions for abandoned seafarers. It also covers the amendments agreed in 2016, which will come into force on 8 January 2019 and address issues such as bullying and harassment, as well as those agreed in April 2018 (which come into force on 26 December 2020), covering the pay of seafarers held in captivity by pirates or armed robbers.

Most importantly for seafarers, the book explains the 'remedies' for dealing with infringement of the rights enshrined by the MLC – including the right to file complaints onboard ship or with authorities ashore and the right to take legal action in courts and employment tribunals. It also sets out the flag state and port state powers of inspection and detention, and the criminal offences and sentences for non-compliance.

Charles says he hopes the book will contribute to improved understanding of the MLC and the way in which its ambitious objectives are being delivered through flag state implementation 'My main aim with the book is to describe in detail what each flag state requires so that the MLC can be complied with,' he says. 'That should be a win-win for everyone – because if the shipowners know what they need to do and what is expect of them, it will be to the benefit of seafarers.'

Maritime Labour Convention, 2006: UK and REG Implementation by Charles Boyle (ISBN: 978 15265 05378) is published by Bloomsbury Professional and is priced at £110.

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Members discounted guide to the MLC

Nautilus members can apply for a 15% discount on the new MLC guide - which is valid until 31 January 2019 -  by logging in to My Nautilus Work-Related Legal services page and following the link to the Bloomsbury Professional Online checkout.

Members: Login for your 15% discount Non-members: buy the guide direct

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