Seafarers' rights

ILO Director remarks at the Special Tripartite Committee established under the Maritime Labour Convention

Statement | 07 April 2014
Good morning

I am very pleased to welcome you to this first meeting of the Special Tripartite Committee for the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006.

At a time when the ILO is dealing with many difficult issues in its standards related work, I have followed both with interest and with a great deal of optimism the progress made in respect of the MLC – an innovative Convention.

And as I am sure many of you are aware, this Committee was established in 2013 by the ILO Governing Body in response to a provision in the Convention. And it is aptly named a “special tripartite committee” – because, in fact, it is unique in the ILO.

Indeed, the maritime sector has itself been particularly special in the history of our Organization. The founders of the ILO in 1919 noted that “the very special questions concerning the minimum conditions to be accorded to seamen might be dealt with at a special meeting of the International Labour Conference”.

The very first maritime session of the Conference was held in 1920. When we look back over the distance of nearly 100 years from perhaps a more globalized perspective, I think we can see that the prescience of these founding members was remarkable indeed and speaks to our current circumstances.

More than 300 maritime representatives from all regions of the world are discussing amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention to cover the consequences of abandonment, and contractual claims for death, injury or disability due to occupational illness or hazard.

But why is it that seafarers and their working and living conditions have been such key concerns since the beginning of the ILO?

In fact the work force numbers may not appear all that large when considered on the global scale. But the world’s seafarers and the ships on which they sail operate in a sector which is by definition international and they are essential to the operation of the world’s economy. I am sure you are all familiar with the estimate that is generally given that 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried on ships.

And I have to say that the temptation is great to make the parallel between the maritime sector which allows the real economy to function and the products of the real economy to circulate around the world, with the financial sector which operates somewhat differently. We all know what failure in the financial economy can result in. It is absolutely important that we make all the necessary provisions to ensure that the maritime sector operates effectively.

I think we need to add to our estimates of that sector the thousands of seafarers who operate on ships, including cruise ships and commercial yachts in the growing maritime recreational sectors.

To put it in a nutshell, seafarers and the ships on which they work are essential to workers and sectors throughout the global economy and therefore we are right to give particular attention to the sector.


At the first and second meetings of the Preparatory Committee in 2010 and 2011 you identified a number of priority concerns and amongst those are two main issues that you will be discussing this in the days ahead.

They are firstly, the abandonment of seafarers and financial security related to death and secondly, long term disability of seafarers. The interest and commitment that you showed in addressing such concerns, clearly continue today and perhaps they are even greater – to judge from the number of participants in the hall this morning. But I have to say this comes as no surprise. The high level of interest and commitment across the different groups has been a feature of the MLC since it was proposed by the Shipowners and Seafarers as long ago as 2001. And it certainly testifies to the importance of the maritime sector for many of our countries.

The serious, indeed sometimes dramatic, human problems arising from the abandonment of seafarers as well as the situation of seafarers and their families resulting from a seafarer’s death or long-term disability have been intensively discussed over nearly a decade of tripartite ILO-IMO Working Group meetings. This Committee is now asked to take concrete steps which – if all runs smoothly (as I am sure it will) – and once the more rapid entry into force requirements are met, will result in binding international law on this subject.

In that regard, I should inform you that the ILO’s Governing Body at its meeting last month took the decision to put the question of these amendments, if they are adopted by your Committee, on the agenda of the International Labour Conference in June of this year for approval.

For these reasons then, I think that the approaches developed here are innovative and ground-breaking – like so many other aspects of the MLC, 2006 – and they can serve as examples or as inspiration for other sectors and attest also to the continuing necessity for and relevance of global standards in a global economy.

The issues for this meeting and the mechanisms at your disposal to address them are further evidence of the foresight of the constituents when they adopted the Convention in 2006 – and many of you are here in this room today. This is because they incorporated provisions that allow for more rapid updating of parts of the Convention so that it can evolve to meet changing needs. This is very new for the ILO and it is an approach that will be observed I am sure with great interest by other tripartite actors in our organization.


Today, nearly seven months after the initial entry into force of the MLC on 20 August last year, we have ratifications from 56 member States responsible for 80 per cent of the world fleet. This means that the standards implemented in national laws apply, or will soon apply, to seafarers on board these ships. Our goal for this Convention is and must continue to be universal ratification by countries with a maritime interest. There are some regions that still need to move forward but the current levels of ratification and industry interest indicate that this goal can indeed be achieved.

Naturally, effective national implementation is a slower process, especially for a Convention as comprehensive as this one is; but here too I feel optimistic that countries are stepping up to the plate. Certainly major steps, with the support of some countries such as Sweden, have been taken in the last few years to help build the necessary capacity for national implementation.

You will have the opportunity as well at this meeting to exchange information and views on a wide range of issues and experiences with national implementation. Indeed, the main mandate of this Committee is to “keep the working of this Convention under continuous review”. Since many aspects of the MLC 2006 are new I feel sure that that this exchange will be constructive and helpful to us all.


No doubt in the course of the meeting we can expect concerns to be expressed, differences of opinion to emerge. But, recalling the impressive spirit of compromise that has prevailed throughout the meetings since 2001 to develop the Convention and this Committee, and also the particular strength of social partnership in your sector I know that you will continue moving forward.

So let me end by thanking you all for being here and for your interest in this Committee. Thanks in advance for your individual contributions to its success. On my side let me tell you that you can count on the continued support of the ILO in the work you have ahead.

Thank you.