International Labour Standards on Seafarers

An estimated 90% of world trade is carried on ships and requires seafarers to operate ships. Seafarers are in this sense essential to international trade and the international economic system. In fact shipping and seafarers are one of the earliest of the “globalized” industries.

To protect the world’s seafarers and their contribution to international trade, the ILO has adopted over the years some 70 instruments (41 Conventions and related Recommendations) through special maritime sessions of the International Labour Conference. The ILO’s international standards for this sector establish the minimum conditions for “decent work” and address almost all aspects of work including minimum requirements for work on a ship (such as minimum age, medical fitness and training) provisions on the conditions of employment such as hours of work and rest, wages, leave, repatriation, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, occupational safety and health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection. In addition, they address issues such as pensions and an internationally recognized document for seafarers (a seafarers’ identity document) to assist in border control matters.

Selected relevant ILO instruments

Consolidation of ILO Maritime Standards

In February 2006, at the 10th Maritime Session, the 94th ILC adopted the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006). This Convention revised and consolidated 37 existing Conventions and the related Recommendations. Those Conventions are no longer open for ratification, although ILO Members that have ratified any of these earlier Conventions but not ratified the MLC, 2006 will remain bound by the Convention in question, including responsibility for submission of national implementation reports required under article 22 of the ILO Constitution. Rather than being open for ratification, those Conventions are now “consolidated” into one instrument, the MLC, 2006, which uses a new format with some updating, where necessary, to reflect modern conditions and language. In this connection, it provides, in one instrument, the comprehensive rights of the world’s 1.5 million seafarers to decent conditions of work on almost every aspect of their working and living conditions including, among others, minimum age, employment agreements, hours of work or rest, payment of wages, paid annual leave, repatriation at the end of contract, on board medical care, the use of licensed private recruitment and placement services, accommodation, food and catering, health and safety protection and accident prevention and seafarers’ complaint handling.

The Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention

The Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention (Revised), 2003 (No. 185) - [ratifications ] replaces ILO Convention No. 108, adopted in 1958. It establishes a more rigorous identity regime for seafarers with the aim of developing effective security from terrorism and ensuring that the world's seafarers will be given the freedom of movement necessary for their well-being and for their professional activities and, in general, to facilitate international commerce.

The Convention sets out the basic parameters and allows the details in its annexes, like the precise form of the identity document (ID), to be easily adapted subsequently to keep up with technological developments. A major feature of the ID is a biometric template based on a fingerprint. A Resolution accompanying the Convention requests the ILO Director-General to take urgent measures for the development of "a global interoperable standard for the biometric, particularly in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)". It also makes provision for the facilitation of shore leave and transit and transfer of seafarers, including the exemption from holding a visa for seafarers taking shore leave.

To avoid the risk of an ID being issued to the wrong person, the Convention also requires ratifying member States to maintain a proper database available for international consultation by authorized officials and to have and observe adequate procedures for the issuance of IDs. Those procedures, which cover not only the security aspects but also the necessary safeguards for individual rights, including data protection, will be subject to transparent procedures for international oversight.


Further information on the Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention:

Previous maritime instruments include :

Further information