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Improving your rights: proposals for amending the MLC

8 April 2022

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) – often referred to as the Seafarers Bill of Rights – covers aspects of working and living onboard, from wages and repatriation to food and medical care. Nautilus director of legal services Charles Boyle reports on the latest proposed amendments ahead of discussions in May

Proposals for changes to the MLC have now been finalised, and represent the most extensive list put forward to date. Many of these are these are aimed at tackling deficiencies identified during the pandemic, as well as longstanding issues exacerbated by Covid such as poor access to medical care.

The proposals will be the subject of the Fourth Special Tripartite Committee of the MLC (Part II), taking place from 4-13 May 2022 in Geneva. The Seafarer's Group will be chaired by Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson, and the Union is optimistic about a positive outcome. We expect there to be significant drafting challenges within this tripartite process, but we will be pushing hard for positive changes.

A total of twelve proposals for amendments will be considered. The following is a summary of the proposals, indicating the proposer(s) in each case.

  • Proposal 1 (joint ITF/ICS): seafarers to be issued with all necessary 'appropriately fitting' Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Proposal 2 (joint ITF/ICS): a requirement that meals be 'healthy' and that there be supplies of sufficient 'quantity, nutritional value and quality' and that drinking water be 'supplied free of charge'
  • Proposal 3 (joint ITF/ICS): the following to be inserted into the repatriation provisions 'In circumstances where applicable laws require the presence on board of seafarers to guarantee safety, national seafarers shall be engaged, and if there are no qualified seafarers available, non-national seafarers shall be engaged to comply with the obligations of this Standard'
  • Proposal 4 (joint ITF/ICS): that seafarers in need of immediate medical care are promptly admitted to medical facilities ashore for the provision of appropriate treatment, and not be prevented for public health reasons; repatriation of body or ashes of deceased seafarers
  • Proposal 5 (joint ITF/ICS): to add 'or the registered shipowner' in the relevant financial security appendices after the current 'name of the shipowner'
  • Proposal 6 (ITF): in respect to social connectivity: (a) access to ship-to-shore communications, including internet facilities free of charge; (b) flag state guidance on the recommended individual time to access the internet, taking into account the seafarers' rest hours and the need to avoid social isolation; and (c) ports to provide internet access free of charge
internet_connectivity_danny_cornelissen_web_insert.jpg

The amendments include a call for free internet provision for seafarers, and for ports to provide free internet access. Image: Danny Cornlissen

  • Proposal 7 (ITF): where the shipowner is not the employer of the seafarer, a signed undertaking [in the Seafarers' Employment Agreement] by the shipowner, or the representative of the shipowner, indemnifying the seafarer for the monetary loss that may be incurred as a result of any failure by the employer to meet its obligations to the seafarer under the seafarers' employment agreement
  • Proposal 8 (ITF): a requirement that Member States ensure that: (a) seafarers are entitled to pay, allowances, food and accommodation, and necessary medical treatment from the moment they leave the ship until they reach the destination of repatriation; and (b) where the destination of repatriation is the seafarer's home location, or other mutually agreed place, the cost of repatriation shall be borne by the shipowner, until the seafarer's arrival at that place or location
  • Proposal 9 (ITF): that recruitment services provide adequate information to seafarers about that system [of protection], including details on how to make a claim, prior to or in the process of engagement
  • Proposal 10 (ITF) that the financial security system for abandonment, which presently covers up to four months' wages, be increased to cover eight months wages
  • Proposal 11 (Governments): that all fatalities are adequately recorded and classified and reported on an annual basis to the ILO to be captured in a global fatalities at sea register
  • Proposal 12 (Governments): clarification on when seafarers may serve more than the maximum period of service on board of 11 months (currently 12 months); extension in duly justified exceptional cases provided for by the flag state on a case-by case basis and with the seafarer's informed consent in writing; minimum annual leave may not be replaced by an allowance in lieu (except where employment ends); any extension of contract not to affect other rights to pay, allotments and repatriation; that 'Maximum duration of service periods on board' is added to the DMLC, Part II, and appendices, so that it becomes a matter of flag state control and port state control

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