Labour standards

Basic facts on the Maritime Labour Convention 2006

The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (“MLC, 2006”) establishes minimum working and living standards for all seafarers working on ships flying the flags of ratifying countries. It’s also an essential step forward in ensuring a level-playing field for countries and shipowners who, until now, have paid the price of being undercut by those who operate substandard ships. Questions and answers.

What is the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006)?

The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 or MLC, 2006 is an international labour Convention adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO). It provides international standards for the world’s first genuinely global industry.

Widely known as the “seafarers’ bill of rights,” the MLC, 2006 was adopted by government, employer and workers representatives at a special ILO International Labour Conference in February 2006.

It is unique in that it aims both to achieve decent work for seafarers and to secure economic interests through fair competition for quality ship owners.

The Convention is comprehensive and sets out, in one place, seafarers' rights to decent working conditions. It covers almost every aspect of their work and life on board including:
  • minimum age
  • seafarers’ employment agreements
  • hours of work or rest
  • payment of wages
  • paid annual leave
  • repatriation at the end of contract
  • onboard 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 Convention was designed to be applicable globally, easy to understand, readily updatable and uniformly enforced and will become the "fourth pillar" of the international regulatory regime for quality shipping, complementing the key Conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) dealing with safety and security of ships and protection of the marine environment.

Why is the MLC, 2006 so important?

First, because it brings together, in one place, international minimum standards that ensure decent work for the estimated more than 1.5 million seafarers around the world whose work is essential to international trade as well as to an increasingly important form of tourism and recreational activity. Under the MLC, 2006 every seafarer has the right to:
  • a safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards
  • fair terms of employment
  • decent working and living conditions on board ship
  • health protection, medical care, welfare measures and other forms of social protection

Second, because it will help to provide a level playing field for quality ship- owners operating under the flag of countries that have ratified the MLC, 2006. The goal is to ensure that decent working conditions go hand in hand with fair competition.

This MLC, 2006 shows how tripartite dialogue and international cooperation can operate constructively for the most globalized of industries, by concretely addressing the challenges to securing decent working and living conditions for seafarers, while simultaneously helping to ensure fair competition for ship- owners.

It is now 2013: seven years to enter into force seems like a long time. Is there any significance in the fact that it has taken this long to come into force?

Under ILO practice, Conventions usually enter in force (become binding under international law) 12 months later for the countries with registered ratifications.

However, the requirements for the MLC, 2006’s entry-into-force were intentionally made the most stringent of any ILO Convention ever adopted in the Organization’s 94-year history: This was done to avoid what is called a “paper tiger” so that it would result in real change.

Because of the comprehensive nature of the MLC, 2006 and the time needed to consult, implement and develop capacity to inspect ships and certify those that need to be certified, the delegates in 2006 expected that it would take about five years to achieve the 30/33 formula. The concern was to ensure that that this Convention had the strong backing of the maritime sector – especially flag States - before it came into force.

In fact, the demanding entry-into-force requirements were achieved on 20 August 2012. (The tonnage requirement was met in 2009).

What is the current state of coverage of ships and seafarers as the MLC, 2006 comes into force?

The ratifying countries currently represent more than 50 per cent of the world’s seafarers and more than three quarters of the world’s gross tonnage of ships.

Importantly, many of the countries that have ratified are also home to the seafarers who comprise the world’s seafaring work force. The pace of ratification is increasing daily and the maritime industry is also actively implementing the Convention, often well ahead of governments. It is foreseeable that the Convention will eventually receive nearly universal ratification from relevant ILO Member countries.

What will happen when the MLC, 2006 comes into force?

On August 20, 2013, the MLC, 2006 will enter into force and become binding international law for the “first 30” - the 30 countries with registered ratifications on August 20, 2012. For all other countries that have ratified, it will enter in force 12 months after their ratifications were registered.

On August 20, 2013, all commercially operated ships of 500 gross tonnage or over that fly the flag of any of the 30 countries that brought the MLC, 2006 into force will, if they operate on international voyages, be required to carry, among other things, two specific documents: the Maritime Labour Certificate (MLC) and the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance (DMLC).

These documents will provide prima facie evidence that the ships are in compliance with the requirements of the Convention, including areas such as minimum age, seafarers’ employment agreements, hours of work or rest, payment of wages, onboard medical care, the use of licensed private recruitment and placement services, accommodation, and food and catering and health and safety protection and accident prevention.

The MLC and DMLC will be subject to inspection when ships enter the ports of other countries that have ratified the MLC, 2006.

In addition, ships flying the flag of countries that have not ratified the MLC, 2006 are also subject to inspection with respect to working and living conditions for seafarers when those ships enter in port of countries where the MLC, 2006 is in force. This inspection, called “no more favourable treatment,” is an important aspect of the Convention, aimed at helping to ensure fair competition for ship-owners who comply with the MLC, 2006 by providing decent work for seafarers.

Who is covered by the Convention and where?

All seafarers working on board ships that fly the flag of countries that have ratified the MLC, 2006 are covered, once it enters into force for the country concerned, (12 months after its ratification is registered by the ILO).

The MLC, 2006 defines seafarers as “all persons who are employed or are engaged or work in any capacity on board a ship to which the Convention applies.” This includes not just the crew involved in navigating or operating the ship but also, for example, persons working in hotel positions that provide a range of services for passengers on cruise ships or yachts.

It applies to a wide range of ships operating on international and national or domestic voyages. It covers all ships other than those which navigate exclusively in inland waters or waters within, or closely adjacent to sheltered waters or areas where port regulations apply. The Convention applies to all those ships, whether publicly or privately owned, that are ordinarily engaged in commercial activities, except:
  • ships engaged in fishing or in similar pursuits
  • ships of traditional build such as dhows and junks
  • warships or naval auxiliaries

How can countries with a maritime interest prepare for, and implement, their inspection obligations under the MLC, 2006?

The MLC, 2006 contains an important new compliance and enforcement component based on a flag State ship inspection and certification system, and port State control. Well trained inspectors are crucial to ensuring better quality and consistency in national ship inspection systems worldwide. It is also very important that the MLC, 2006 be effectively implemented in laws and other measures at a national level.

The ILO has developed a number of resources such as Guidelines for flag State inspections and model national legal provisions, as well as workshops to help train inspectors and to assist national legal counsel and officials involved with ratification and national legal implementation.

Through its Maritime Labour Academy based at its International Training Centre (ITC) in Turin Italy, the ILO provides a comprehensive range of training activities under the MLC, 2006.

What’s next?

The coming into force of the MLC, 2006 is a historic event in the history of international labour standards but our work is not done. Effective implementation by governments and ship-owners is critical to ensuring that legal implementation and ratification translate into practice. The ILO is working with governments and with seafarers, ship-owners and other key actors in the maritime industry to help ensure that the goals of the MLC, 2006 are achieved.