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ILO Conference Adopts New Standards for Seafarers


Press release | 22 October 1996


GENEVA (ILO News) - The 84th (Maritime) Session of the International Labour Conference concluded its work today with the adoption of six conventions and recommendations and a Protocol concerning the living and working conditions of seafarers.

In a speech to the Conference, the Director-General of the ILO, Michel Hansenne, evoked the potential hazards of seafaring: "The dangers to which shipowners and governments are exposed are financial or political in nature, but seafarers are exposed to physical risks which threaten their very lives. It has, for example, been emphasized that since the last tripartite meeting of 1994, 180 ships of more than 500 tons have been lost at sea, causing the death of 1,200 seafarers and many passengers. In the first six months of 1996, twice as many human lives were lost at sea than in the whole of 1995."

The Director-General pointed to changes in the working lives of shipowners and seafarers'during the last 25 years. Overcapacity in many maritime sectors led to structural adjustment in the 1980s. Increased competition has forced many shipowners to seek the lowest possible operational costs by re-registering their ships in the so-called "open" registers which tend to be more permissive as concerns taxation, safety, manning, licensing, inspection and management. The increased use of manning agents has "contributed to making the legal and economic framework of the shipping sector ever more complex", Michel Hansenne noted.

The Conference revised and adopted the following international legal instruments:

Seafarers' Hours of Work and the Manning of Ships Convention and
Seafarers' Wages, Hours of Work and the Manning of Ships Recommendation, 1996

The Conference revised the Wages, Hours of Work and Manning (Sea) Convention and Recommendation, 1958 (No. 109). It adopted the new Seafarers' Hours of Work and the Manning of Ships Convention, 1996 Endnote 1 which establishes 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.

It calls upon member States which ratify it to acknowledge that normal hours of work shall be based on an eight-hour day with one day of rest per week and then provides that maximum limits shall not exceed 14 hours per day and 72 hours in a week. Alternatively, member States may define working time through a minimum of ten hours of rest per day or 77 hours in a week. These limitations are to be posted in an easily accessible place on board the ship. Records of daily working hours or periods of rest are to be maintained, and the competent authority is to examine and endorse these records at appropriate intervals in order to monitor compliance and, if the records indicate infringements of the provisions governing hours of work or rest, require measures to be taken to avoid future infringements.

The new Convention has also been included in the Protocol to the Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1976, (No. 147), which means that, following sufficient ratifications, this instrument may also be subject to port State control.

The accompanying Recommendation, which focuses on compensation for overtime and other wage issues, is a comprehensive instrument which will serve to clarify wage issues for seafarers and shipowners. It retains the ILO minimum monthly basic wage figure for able seamen, a figure which has long served as an international benchmark for the industry.

Labour Inspection (Seafarers) Convention and Recommendation, 1996

International provisions for labour inspection on board of ships were strengthened by the adoption of the Labour Inspection (Seafarers) Convention Endnote 2 , the first international convention on maritime labour inspection. The Preamble of the Convention states that these measures only apply to flag State control. Endnote 3

Ratifying member States "shall maintain a system of inspection of seafarers' working and living conditions". All ships registered in their territory are inspected "at intervals not exceeding three years and, when practicable, annually" or, in case of a complaint or other evidence of non-conformity, "as soon as practicable". Inspections should be conducted so as "to avoid a ship being unreasonably detained or delayed". If this is not the case, the shipowner is entitled to compensation. The responsible public authority "shall publish an annual report on inspection activities".

Like the Seafarers' Hours of Work and the Manning of Ships Convention, it applies to "every seagoing ship" of a country's commercial fleet while commercial fishing vessels are only concerned if the competent authority "deems it practicable".

The accompanying Recommendation refers more specifically to the coordination and organization of inspections as well as the duties and powers of inspectors. An accompanying resolution of the Conference calls for new ILO guidelines for inspectors.

Recruitment and Placement of Seafarers Convention (Revised) and Recommendation, 1996

The International Labour Conference also adopted a convention and a recommendation on the Recruitment and Placement of Seafarers Endnote 4 revising the Placing of Seamen Convention, 1920 (No. 9). The new Convention allows private placement services provided that they are "in conformity with a system of licensing or certification or other form of regulation." Ratifying member States shall "ensure that no fees or other charges for recruitment or for providing employment to seafarers are borne directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, by the seafarer."

The competent national authority will have to supervise closely all recruitment and placement services, particularly with respect to meeting legal requirements and staffing of the agencies with adequately trained persons. Placement services shall also "adopt measures to ensure, as far as practicable, that the employer has the means to protect seafarers from being stranded in a foreign port." Recruitment agents will also have to keep a register of all seafarers recruited and make sure that seafarers can examine their contracts of employment "before and after they are signed". "With due regard to privacy and the need for confidentiality" national laws or regulations should specify how seafarers' personal data may be processed by the recruitment and placement services.

While seafarers may bring any complaints directly to the competent national authority, an adequate procedure for the investigation of complaints will need to be set up in every ratifying state.

The accompanying Recommendation sets out guidelines for effective cooperation among the different recruitment services, shipowners and seafarers. Among other tasks, the competent authority should approve or prescribe standards for the operation of recruitment and placement services and encourage the adoption of codes of conduct for these services.

1996 Protocol to the Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1976

Most of the standards covered by the Merchant Shipping Convention, 1976 ( No. 147) are defined in terms of earlier ILO Conventions. Convention No. 147 has become 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 Conference adopted an optional Protocol to the 1976 Convention Endnote 5, allowing States to accept new obligations, but retaining the flexibility for the Convention still to be ratified in its existing form. A supplementary appendix which can be accepted by the ratifying state includes ILO conventions regulating accommodation of crews, hours of work and manning (see above), seafarers' identity documents, workers' representatives, health protection and repatriation.

Member States who have ratified Convention No. 147 may take measures necessary to rectify any conditions on board foreign registered ships entering their ports which are clearly hazardous to safety and health if there is a complaint or evidence that the ship does not conform to the standards of this Convention. Since its adoption, the Convention has strengthened substantially the international will to eliminate the operation of substandard ships.

Despite the accelerated transfer of ships from one register to another, the ratification rate of Convention No. 147 covering more than 50 per cent of the world fleet remained stable between 1993 and 1996. It is referred to by many as one of the most significant and influential maritime standards.

The Conference President was Mr. Michael Hubbard, government delegate from Canada. The three Vice-Presidents of the Conference were Mr. Payaman Simanjuntak, Indonesia (representing governments); Mr. B.M. Ghildiyal of India (representing employers) and Mr. Shosiro Nakanishi of Japan (representing workers). Over 800 delegates and advisers from 85 member States attended the Conference.

The twelve Maritime Conferences of the ILO - the last one was held in 1987 - have adopted a total of 39 Conventions and 30 Recommendations setting international labour standards for most aspects of the working and living conditions of seafarers.

Immediately after the Conference, the Joint Maritime Commission met and fixed the new ILO minimum wage recommendation for able seamen which was set at 435 US-dollars as of 1 January 1998.

Endnote 1:

Vote on the Convention:
Yes - 209;
No - 1;
Abstentions - 13

Vote on the Recommendation:
Yes - 197;
No - 11;
Abstentions - 16

Endnote 2:

Vote on the Convention:
Yes - 205 ; No - 1; Abstentions - 10

Vote on the Recommendation:
Yes - 210 ;
No - 0 ;
Abstentions - 9

Endnote 3:

This means that the ship is liable to be inspected only by the flag state. Controls by the port state are possible within the framework of the Merchant Shipping Convention, 1976 (No. 147).

Endnote 4:

Vote on the Convention:
Yes - 197;
No - 5;
Abstentions - 17

Vote on the Recommendation:
Yes - 201;
No - 4; Abstentions - 10

Endnote 5:

Vote on the Protocol of the Convention:
Yes - 201;
No - 4;
Abstentions - 19