New UN treaty guarantees merchant sailors’ labour rights in era of globalization

ILO adopts a new maritime charter

23 February 2006 – Seeking to ensure fair globalization, the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) today overwhelmingly adopted comprehensive new standards for the world's 1.2 million merchant sailors, setting out a host of rights to decent working conditions covering health, safety, minimum age and hours of work.

“We have made maritime labour history today”, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 after its adoption by a vote of 314 for, with no votes against and four abstentions, at the 94th International Labour Conference (Maritime) in Geneva attended by delegates from more than 100 countries representing seafarers, shipowners and governments.

“We have adopted a Convention that spans continents and oceans, providing a comprehensive labour charter for the world's 1.2 million or more seafarers and addressing the evolving realities and needs of a sector that handles 90 per cent of the world's trade,” he added of the Convention, which departs significantly from traditional ILO treaties.

Among its novel features are its form and structure with legally binding standards accompanied by directions given by guidelines. Its amendment procedures are rapid and, most importantly, it sets out a system for the certification of seafarers' labour conditions.

“This Convention is unique in that it has teeth,” said Bruce Carlton of the United States, who chaired the Committee of the Whole.

It consolidates and updates 68 existing ILO maritime Conventions and Recommendations adopted since 1920. Countries that do not ratify the new Convention will remain bound by the previous Conventions that they have ratified, although those instruments will be closed to further ratification.

“We have established a socio-economic floor to global competition in the maritime sector,” Mr. Somavia said. “This initiative can also provide the impetus and support for similarly innovative and balanced approaches to addressing the need to make globalization fair in other sectors of the world of work.”

The new Convention clearly sets out, in plain language, a seafarers' ‘bill of rights’ while allowing a sufficient degree of national discretion to deliver those rights with transparency and accountability. The Convention also contains provisions allowing it to keep in step with the needs of the industry, and help secure universal application and enforcement.

Its provisions will help to meet the demand for quality shipping, crucial to the global economy and apply to all ships engaged in commercial activities with the exception of fishing vessels and traditional ships (such as dhows and junks). The Convention sets minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship and contains provisions on conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection.

Features include accelerated amendment procedures to update technical provisions to address changes in the sector and onboard and onshore complaint procedures to encourage rapid resolution of problems.

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