Maritime Labour Convention

MLC is not just a tick box exercise. Many flags have still failed to ratify this important piece of maritime legislation. It remains to be seen just how prepared shipowners, managers and their crew are for the pitfalls surrounding the new regime.

Nigel Cleave reports in Lloyds List Wednesday 14 August 2013

IF THE shipping industry thought the International Safety Management Code was a difficult regulatory instrument to get its head around, then the weeks following the coming into force of the Maritime Labour Convention will be an interesting time. MLC 2006 is the single most important seam of shipping regulation to come out of the International Maritime Organization in recent years.

Considered to be the fourth pillar of maritime regulation after the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, Marpol and the international convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping, it is the first of its kind in which flag states, shipowners and trade unions have jointly deliberated and agreed to the requirements of the convention. However, just how prepared shipowners, managers and their crew are to the pitfalls surrounding this crucial piece of legislation remains to be seen.

This seafarers’ Bill of Rights sets out the rights of the seafarers when it comes to their working conditions, hours of work/rest, food and hygiene and, more importantly, about how they are trained, what salary they earn and protection when it comes to repatriation following abandonment and dispute resolution methods. So with all this positivity going on, why is the shipping industry holding its breath as the August 20 deadline approaches? At the time of going to press, 45 countries had ratified the MLC, with notable non-signatories being the US and South Korea.

With many flags still failing to ratify this important piece of legislation, there is a fear that implementation of the convention will not be across the board for all vessels. Equally as worrying are the concerns over the disparity in the way in which vessels will be inspected by port state control officials. The port state control authorities of states which have not ratified MLC 2006 may not check vessels over the requirements of the convention, while others may be considerably more dogmatic. The interpretation of the convention in a few parts is left to the flag state, so there may be some element of subjectivity in its interpretation and thus its enforcement and the convention will increase the burden of documentation in the safety management systems, as well as with the master on board.

Masters will have to go through yet another layer of PSC inspection related to the convention, adding to the bureaucracy with which they have to deal. So just as our important seafarers can look forward to long-awaited protection of their rights as workers on board ship, they may find themselves facing the scrutiny of a global inspection regime that has not quite got all of its ducks in a row. Any slip-up will result in vessels being detained and the subjective nature of the inspecting process heightens these concerns even more.

So as the weeks dissolve away towards the entry into force deadline, owners and managers have important questions to consider: do their ships comply; do they have the right documentation; are they sufficiently trained to know what is expected of them? Some may find is it a little more than putting a cross in a box. Fully understanding the ramifications of what is involved is what is crucial here.

Nigel Cleave is chief executive of maritime training provider Videotel

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