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ILO Conference to Set New Standards for Seafarers


Press release | 07 October 1996


GENEVA (ILO News) - Shipowners, seafarers and government delegates from approximately 60 countries will meet in Geneva from 8 to 22 October in order to update and improve international laws covering safety and conditions of work in the shipping industry.

The 84th (Maritime) Session of the International Labour Conference has been convened by the International Labour Organization for the specific purpose of revising five international Conventions and Recommendations for seafarers pertaining to labour inspection aboard ships, hours of work and rest periods, manning levels, wages as well as recruitment and placement practices.

In recent years the shipping industry has become increasingly internationalized. The growing use of ship management companies and manning agencies has led to new worker management relationships. The trend towards registration of ships in “open” or “international” registers continues and the number of ships in these registers has increased while the number in traditional registers has decreased. “Open” registers are often only connected remotely with the country whose flag they fly and tend to be more permissive as concerns, safety, manning, licensing and inspection.

While new ships are typically larger than in the past many are highly automated resulting in a reduction of personnel and placing a greater responsibility on the seafarers who remain on board. In 1950, for example, a 12,000 (deadweight) ton oil tanker had an average crew of 40. Forty years later, according to an ILO report Endnote 1, a tanker twenty times as large may have had only 20 men on board.

Increasingly crews consist of seafarers from different cultures and with different languages and there has been a shift in the countries of origin with a much larger proportion coming from developing countries and especially from Asia. Society as a whole has also become increasingly concerned with safe working and living conditions aboard ships as well as in environmental matters. These developments mean that some of the ILO's international labour standards for the maritime sector need to be updated.

The revision of five international legal instruments is on the Conference agenda:

Wages, Hours of Work and Manning (Sea) Convention, 1958 (No. 109) and Recommendation, 1958 (No. 109)

The Conference will discuss the revision of the Wages, Hours of Work and Manning (Sea) Convention, 1958 (No. 109) and Recommendation, 1958 (No. 109).

Draft Convention No. 109 would establish specific daily and weekly limitations on hours of work, or, conversely, daily or weekly minimum rest periods for seafarers with the aim of preventing fatigue associated with excessive work. Such fatigue is seen as a contributor to maritime accidents and to seafarers' health problems. The draft text before the Conference proposes a limit of 14 working hours per day and 72 hours in a week. However, exceptions would be permitted, if provided in national laws or regulations or collective agreements, to take into account leave periods and special types of shipping operations. The draft also provides a means for recording and monitoring hours of work or rest so that national authorities could call for adjustments in manning arrangements to prevent fatigue.

While the revised version of Convention No. 109 would address the issue of hours of work from a safety and health perspective, the revised version of Recommendation No. 109 is expected to address the interlinked issues of wages, hours of work and manning. The proposed instrument deals comprehensively with all wage issues concerning seafarers and give guidance to governments as well as to seafarers and shipowners engaged in collective bargaining. It also contains a revised version of the ILO's minimum wage figure for able seamen, currently set currently at US$ 385 (1980: 276 US$; 1970: 100 US$) per calendar month, which for years has served as a useful international benchmark.

Labour Inspection (Seamen) Recommendation, 1926 (No. 28)

Since Recommendation No. 28 was adopted in 1926, successive International Labour Conferences have elaborated a series of more modern instruments relating to labour inspection in various kinds of activity. The proposed revision would provide for more detailed instruments on the inspection of seafarers's living and working conditions, this time in the form of a Convention - creating obligations for States which ratify it - supplemented by a new Recommendation. Endnote 2

The proposed instruments include provisions covering the periodicity of inspections, the persons carrying them out, the powers and duties of labour inspectors, and the steps to be taken when substandard ships are discovered. The Conference may also consider in this context measures to be taken as regards foreign registered ships as well as those registered in ratifying States.

Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 147)

Convention No. 147 is the most far-reaching of the ILO's maritime instruments. It has been ratified by States accounting for a total of over half the world fleet and continues to be the basic point of reference in the industry for minimal acceptable standards of safety and health, social security and living and working conditions of seafarers.

The standards covered by the Convention No. 147 are defined in terms of earlier Conventions adopted by the ILO Conference. The proposal now is to extend the list of those

earlier Conventions to include new ones concerning repatriation, seafarers' identity documents, leave, workers' representatives, crew accommodation and health protection, among others.

The proposed instrument for adoption now takes the form of an optional Protocol to the 1976 Convention, allowing States to accept new obligations, but retaining the flexibility for the Convention still to be ratified in its existing form.

A good example of the impact of Convention No. 147 is the Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control adopted by 15 European countries joined recently by Canada. The Memorandum provides for the harmonization of inspection procedures applicable to foreign ships. In 1995, more than 1800 ships were delayed or detained following inspection in European ports. Endnote 3

Placing of Seamen Convention, 1920 (No. 9)

Conference delegates will also discuss the revision of the Placing of Seamen Convention (No. 9). In many countries the recruitment and placement of seafarers are not conducted in the manner foreseen by the Convention. Abuse and exploitation of seafarers by manning agencies continue resulting also in unfit seafarers being supplied to ships. The proposed draft Convention stipulates that private recruitment and placement services may be operated under a member State's supervision requiring a system of licensing, certification or similar authorization without in any way preventing the maintenance of a free public recruitment and placement service for seafarers. At the same time, it lays down the principle that no fee should be charged to seafarers who must be allowed to examine their contracts of employment “before and after they are signed”. Endnote 4

The proposed supplementary recommendation contains provisions among others on the promotion of international cooperation.

The eleven Maritime Conferences of the ILO - the last one was held in 1987 - have adopted a total of 36 Conventions and 27 Recommendations setting international standards for most aspects of the working and living conditions of seafarers.

Endnote 1:

See “Changes in the shipboard environment and in the characteristics of seafarers' employment”, report of the Joint Maritime Commission, 26th session, Geneva 1991

Endnote 2:

Report 1, Revision of the Labour Inspection (Seamen) Recommendation, 1926 (No. 28), International Labour Conference, 84th (Maritime), Session 1996

Endnote 3:

See 1995 Annual report on the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control, Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control, Rijswijk 1996

Endnote 4:

Report 3, Revision of the Placing of Seamen Convention, 1920 (No. 9), International Labour Conference, 84th (Maritime), Session 1996

See also:

- Report 2, Revision of the Wages, Hours of Work and Manning (Sea) Convention (Revised), 1958 (No.109), and Recommendation, 1958 (No. 109), International Labour Conference, 84th (Maritime), Session 1996

- Report 4, Partial revision of the Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 147), International Labour Conference, 84th (Maritime), Session 1996