Maritime Labour Convention

The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) is an important new international labour convention that was adopted by the International Labour Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) under article 19 of its constitution at a maritime session in February 2006 in Geneva, Switzerland. The convention has not yet been implemented, but this is expected to happen in 2011.

So far the convention has been ratified by the Bahamas, liberia, Panama, Norway and the Marshall Islands, and will enter into force 12 months after it has been ratified by at least 30 member countries that in total represent a minimum of 33 per cent of the world fleet. More than a thousand participants from 106 countries, including representatives for seafarers, shipowners and governments, reviewed the convention in great detail for two weeks before it was adopted by a record vote of 314 in favour and none against (two countries abstained). Based on this result, the convention is likely to achieve the aim of near universal ratification, and the criteria for it to be put into force are likely to be met during 2010.

The Beginning

The first steps towards adapting the new convention were taken in 2001, when international seafarers' and shipowners' organisations, with governmental support, pointed out that the global shipping industry urgently needed international labour regulations with global standards applicable across the entire industry. Labour standards affecting the maritime sector have been fragmented, both in content and application, making them difficult for governments to ratify and enforce. In addition, many of these standards were outdated and did not reflect contemporary working and living conditions aboard ships.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) had been taking important steps in order to implement protective measures in the areas of ship safety, security, training, watch-keeping and certification of seafarers as well as environmental pollution. However, the shipping industry lacked the necessary breadth of modern international labour standards and was still using standards that dated back several decades.

The ILO was therefore called upon to develop a convention that would improve the relevance of the existing standards and cater to the needs of all the interested parties in the maritime sector. The new convention consolidates and updates more than 60 earlier ILO conventions and recommendations.

The new MLC 2006 provides for comprehensive rights and protection at work for the world's more than 1.2 million seafarers. It has been designed to become a global instrument known as the "fourth pillar" of the international regulatory body charged with governing quality shipping and complementing the key SOlAS, MARPOl and STCW conventions of the iMo. The aim of its design has been to maintain the prevailing standards of the current maritime labour conventions, while at the same time leaving each country greater freedom in formulating their national laws in order to keep such laws at the international level of protection.

What Are the Advantages of the New Convention?

In addition to the obvious benefits of having to deal with only one set of rules and updated standards, a major improvement on previous conventions and recommendations is that of securing a safer working environment for all seafarers (not only for those involved in the navigation and operation of the vessel) and thereby allowing fair competition within the world fleet market.

There are many flag states and shipowners that take pride in providing seafarers with proper and decent working conditions. These countries and shipowners face unfair competition in that they pay the price of being undercut by shipowners who, without risking any sanctions, operate substandard ships thus jeopardising the well-being, health and, not least, the safety of the many seafarers who have to work under unacceptable conditions. The new international convention will help prevent this as it provides the governments of all ratifying countries with wider powers of enforcement on all ships.

The convention applies to all vessels whether publicly or privately owned and ordinarily engaged in commercial activities, but excludes fishing vessels, warships or naval auxiliaries, and vessels that navigate exclusively in inland waters. The convention basically applies to all seafarers, and to vessels of all countries as, irrespective of ratification, all vessels will be subject to inspection by Port State control in any country that has ratified the convention. Such vessels risk being detained should they not meet the convention’s minimum standards. The latter protects flag states and shipowners that take pride in providing their seafarers with decent working conditions from being undercut by irresponsible competitors.

It is expected that a broader consequence of the conformity between all nations' shipping rules will be a more secure and responsible maritime workforce, and a more socially responsible shipping industry. The convention sets out basic verifiable minimum employment and social requirements for seafarers. In addition, based on the opportunity that ratifying countries have to inspect all vessels and also to impose detentions, the working and living conditions for seafarers will improve, and they will be better informed of their rights than they would have been under the previous situation.

The convention and its appendices are to be made easily accessible onboard and, as a minimum requirement, available
in English. Taken together, all the advantages of the new convention will, hopefully, have a positive impact on safety at sea.

The Contents of MLC 2006

The convention is built up with articles, followed by regulations and a code. The regulations and the code are divided into five titles and contain standards and guidelines that are organised as follows:

  • Title 1: Minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship
  • Title 2: Conditions of employment
  • Title 3: Accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering
  • Title 4: Health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection 
  • Title 5: Compliance and enforcement

The standards are referred to as Part A, and these are mandatory. The guidelines, referred to as Part B, are not mandatory. Each regulation is introduced by a purpose clause, described in plain language. In addition, there is an explanatory note to the regulations and the code. Although Part B of the code is not mandatory it cannot be ignored as Part A and Part B are interrelated. The provisions of Part B are helpful and sometimes essential for a proper understanding of the regulations and the mandatory standards in Part A, which in some cases are so generally phrased that it may be difficult to implement them without further guidance.

The appendices to the convention contain key model documents; a maritime labour certificate and a declaration of maritime labour compliance. This certificate will be issued by the flag state for a period of 5 years once the state has verified that the labour conditions on the vessel comply with national laws and regulations governing the implementation of the convention. The flag state is obliged to carry out periodic inspections. The declaration is attached to the certificate and summarises national laws and/or regulations implementing a list of the maritime standards and the shipowner's or operator's plan for ensuring that the national requirements will be maintained on the vessel between inspections.

Many flag states are expected to delegate these inspections to various classification societies such as DNV, GL, BV, Lloyd’s Register and others. These classification societies are presently preparing for the convention to be implemented in 2011, and are already in close dialogue with some shipowner’s and ship management companies regarding the provision of training and gap analysis. The idea behind the construction of the convention is also that possible amendments shall be easy to implement without having to change the actual articles and regulations.

The updates to the MLC will be made in the two-part code and can be amended under an accelerated procedure enabling the changes to come into effect for all, or almost all, ratifying countries within three to four years from when they are proposed. A ratifying member state will be bound by an amendment to the code if it does not express formal disagreement within a period of two years.

MLC Social Security Regulations

What are the effects of the enforcement of the MLC 2006 Social Security Regulations? The regulations under title 4 of MLC 2006, call for the industry to progressively achieve comprehensive social security protection for seafarers and their dependants. The code lists nine various social benefits for the shipping industry to work towards and implement over time. It further states that at the time of ratification, at least three of the abovementioned nine benefits are to be provided and suggests that they should include Medical Care, Sickness Benefit and Employment Injury Benefit.

Norwegian Hull Club's subsidiary, Marine Benefits AS, already offers an innovative, high-quality medical programme which, over the last couple of years, has been implemented for a steadily increasing number of shipowners and ship management companies. This particular plan has been designed with the intention of increasing the interest and the retention of officers and crew as well as meeting the medical care benefit requirements of MLC 2006. Around 25.000 members are currently covered by the plan (seafarers and their spouses and children). The plan covers seafarers in their country of residence when signed-off for vacation, and also provides year-round cover for seafarers’ families. Marine Benefits AS is well-positioned to assist shipowners and ship managers in implementing the various benefits referred to in Mlc 2006 and will continue to follow the development of this new convention very closely.

For more information on the Maritime Labour Convention, visit the international labour organisation's web pages: www.ilo.org, where you will find the entire text, FAQs, information on ratification and much more.

More information about Marine Benefits' Group Medical Plan, and other MLC-related benefits can be found on their website www.marinebenefits.no or by contacting them via e-mail: ivar.hanestad@marinebenefits.no or kjell.eliasson@marinebenefits.no 


1. Jul. 2009