Opening Remarks to the Regional Maritime Conference in the Asia-Pacific Region

by Mr Yasuyuki Nodera, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Singapore | 22 July 2002

Every day we are reminded that, for everybody, work is a defining feature of our existence. It is the means of sustaining life and of meeting basic needs. It is also the activity through which individuals affirm their own identity, both to themselves and to those around them. It is crucial to individual choice, to the welfare of families and to the stability of societies. Some work is done under conditions that respect and build human dignity; other work may rob a person of his or her human rights and dignity. The indispensable ILO response to these issues has been summed up by the Director General of the Office, Mr. J. Somavia, in a simple sentence:

The ILO's mission is to improve the situation of human beings in the world of work. Today, that mission finds resonance in the widespread preoccupation of people at times of great change: to find sustainable opportunities for decent work.

To what extents does this general concept apply to the maritime industry? Many changes have occurred in world shipping during the last decades. They have strongly influenced the labour market and the conditions of work and life of seafarers. These include: the shift of ship management to specialist companies, the emergence of alternative types of registers, environmental issues, technological developments and Port State Control. Even more important has been the general thrust of the industry to reduce costs in the face of economic considerations, with an inevitable consequential impact on crew conditions.

A number of particular issues can be identified within the maritime industry, such as the employment of women, the role of unions and collective bargaining, training and certification, etc. Other problems are more specific to conditions of work and life in the shipping industry with particular emphasis on shipboard conditions. This includes such issues as wages, hours of work, food, accommodation and welfare, or even abandonment of seafarers.

One of the implications is that Decent Work in the Maritime Industry can only be achieved through good cooperation between the social partners, so that both will benefit. In this respect, not only is the maritime industry an activity where the decent work agenda can be fully applied, it should also assume, because of its globalised activities, a trend setting role in this respect.

Another clear implication of the Decent Work concept is that the social partners will not achieve much if they cannot rely on dedicated, adequate and technically adapted administrations in their respective countries. Tripartism, one of the key historical principles of the ILO since its inception in 1919, still is today, maybe more than ever, a necessary and indispensable condition for progress in the maritime industry.

The ongoing work that has taken place in Geneva since the 49th session of the Joint Maritime Commission, in January 2001, is a demonstration of what I have just said. The preparation of a future consolidated Convention for the industry has entered a very intensive stage that should see its completion in 2005. Moreover, the tragic events that have rocked the world in September 2001 have compelled everyone, and of course the maritime industry in particular, because of its essentially international nature, to reconsider many security related aspects of shipping. One of them, which is of particular importance for the ILO Maritime activities, concerns the possibility for the seafarer to dispose of a secure, specific and safe identity document. The Asia-Pacific Region, with its very important and huge shipping sector, has to be updated on these issues, and to share its views on them. This we hope will be done today and tomorrow, at this Seminar.

In the course of the last several decades, Asia has become the world leader in shipping. Many countries in the region have large shipping registers, many have major ports, with thousands of ships calling every day, whilst others are among the most important maritime labour supplying countries in the world. I note with pleasure that our host country, Singapore, fulfils the first and second criteria. And, it is appropriate that the government of Singapore is jointly organizing and hosting with the ILO this meeting for which on ILO's behalf I wish to thank the government of Singapore.

Working and living conditions on board ships pertaining to the various registers in the region are very diverse. The ILO felt the need to gather information in this respect. This is why a Report has been drafted by two international consultants, supplemented by a number of case studies. It will be presented tomorrow, and I have no doubt that you will want to supplement or refine the information contained in the Report, as well as to discuss its conclusions in a constructive manner.