The Maritime Labour Convention 2006

The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is an International Labour Organization convention established in 2006 as the Fourth pillar of international maritime law and embodies ”all up-to-date standards of existing international maritime labour Conventions and Recommendations, as well as the fundamental principles to be found in other international labour Conventions”. The other “pillars” are the SOLAS, STCW and MARPOL.

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) was adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in February 2006, but it was only last year, on 20 August 2012, that the minimum requirements set out for its entry into force were met when the Philippines became the 30th country to ratify the Convention.

As the Convention was designed to enter into force 12 months after the minimum requirement was reached, the MLC will enter into force on 20 August 2013 but only as far as the first 30 ratifying countries are concerned. Entry into force for other countries will take place 12 months after each ratification is registered by the ILO. However, despite the fact that entry into force of the Convention will vary from country to country, it should be noted that from 20 August 2013 Port State Control in countries which have not ratified the Convention will still apply the MLC requirements to ships flagged in ratifying countries. Similarly, through the “no more favourable treatment” clause, ships flagged with nonratifying countries will have to comply with the 14 minimum requirements set out under the Convention when calling at ports of ratifying countries.

At the time of writing piece of news, 41 countries representing approximately 70 percent of the world gross tonnage have ratified the MLC including important Flag States such as Panama and Liberia, as well as the key Port states and jurisdictions of the majority of seafarers and seafarer recruitment providers.

For now, some notable Flag States have not yet ratified including the United States and the United Kingdom.

Whilst the United Kingdom has indicated that it will ratify and be ready to implement by August 2013, the situation is much less clear for the United States.

In brief, the MLC constitutes a major shift in maritime labour law. It links strength of rights with flexibility in application and a strong regime of enforcement. In this way, it aims for and is likely to achieve almost universal ratification, a result which past Conventions (and there have been over 70) have failed to achieve. Fundamentally, it is a set of maritime labour principles and rights, and aims to transform shipping into a more socially responsible industry, manned by better informed seafarers operating in improved working and living conditions. Importantly, it is intended to level the playing field so that unscrupulous operators cannot undercut on price those operators already providing decent living and working conditions.

The Convention is based on a certification system operated by Flag States whereby all relevant ships flagged by a ratifying state will need to be certified and, once certified, they will be deemed to have complied with the MLC unless Port State Control obtain evidence of noncompliance. Importantly, non-ratifying state ships (which will not have an MLC certificate of compliance) calling at ports of ratifying states will be subject to Port State Control inspections aimed at ensuring compliance with the Convention’s minimum 14 requirements regarding seafarers’ working and living conditions. If these vessels do not comply with those minimum terms, they are likely to encounter long delays and possibly detention. The “no more favourable treatment” clause, as it is known, aims to ensure that shipowners are not able to evade minimum obligations to their seafarers by sailing under a nonratifying Flag State.

What does the future hold?

It is difficult to say how this new regime will work in practice as it is such a radical departure from previous regimes. Much will depend on the practicalities of implementation and enforcement. It will be interesting to see whether the overwhelming support mustered at the time of its adoption will continue through to implementation and beyond. Given this is the first maritime labour convention with real teeth, the tools are certainly there to make that happen. We wait to see how well the industry responds to the challenge.