What changes would you like to make to the Maritime Labour Convention?

The so-called seafarer bill of rights is due to be updated. Suggested changes need to be filed with the International Labour Organization by next week. Chief correspondent Jason Jiang looks at what could be on the agenda.

Anyone with suggestions as to how to improve the lot of the seafarer has just one week to get his or her thoughts heard by the powers that be. The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), known as the seafarers’ bill of rights, is due to be amended in April next year with all suggestions from signatories to the bill due in at the Geneva headquarters of the International Labour Organization (ILO) by October 1.

The MLC is considered as a major milestone in realising the rights of seafarers since it entered into force in 2013. However, there have been increasing calls for amendments to the convention in order to keep it up to date with the changes in the global shipping environment, especially with advances in technology as well as the stresses and strains brought about by the pandemic situation this year.

The MLC lacks expedient enforcement mechanisms and remedy procedures

The MLC is an ILO convention that was established in 2006 as the fourth pillar of international maritime law following SOLAS, STCW and MARPOL, and it embodies all standards of existing international maritime labour conventions and recommendations, as well as the fundamental principles to be found in other international labour conventions.

The convention entered into force on August 20 2013 and as of September 2019, the convention had been ratified by 97 states representing over 91% of global shipping.

The signatories now have until next Thursday to propose to ILO any amendments.

Ben Bailey, director of advocacy and regional engagement at The Mission to Seafarers reckons that the MLC has brought huge benefits to seafarers around the world, but the fact that it is not in force everywhere means that too many crews are falling through the gap, particularly when they find themselves abandoned, and a significant change to the convention would be for the international community to work to enforce the convention and to put pressure on those states which have not signed up to the MLC to do so.

Access to internet at sea has been among the biggest gripes for crew

“When seafarers contact us for assistance, all too often it transpires that they have had to pay a recruiter for their place onboard. While many countries have outlawed this practice, as per the MLC, The Mission to Seafarers would like to see increased auditing of these practices to protect crews from being unfairly charged,” says Bailey.

Bailey also points out that many seafarers have worked well beyond the standard 11-month long contracts during the pandemic and one thing that really impacts welfare under the situation is the kind of welfare provisions that are recognised as rights in the MLC.

Bailey is aware of the fact that seafarers currently have the right to access welfare facilities in ports – physical buildings and places, but they do not have a right to access welfare providers such as chaplains and port welfare officers. Over the past few months, this distinction has cut off seafarers from the welfare provision that should be available, as access to the facilities has been restricted. Contact with welfare providers is still possible, but not recognised as a right. Where seafarers have been unable to access port facilities, changing this definition of welfare in the MLC would therefore make a significant difference.

“We would like to see greater clarity within the convention to define welfare not just as bricks and mortar facilities, but to include access to professional providers of welfare – such as chaplains, counsellors and support workers to ensure seafarers have the support and protection they need and deserve,” Bailey says.

Catherine Spencer, chief executive officer of charity Seafarers UK says the organisation is calling for all incidents and accidents at sea, and on merchant vessels in ports, in which seafarers are injured or die to be promptly reported by flag states in a transparent manner, so that lessons can be learned and shared.

Spencer says that Seafarers UK is lobbying for seafarer suicides to be honestly and accurately reported, as there is an increasing volume of anecdotal evidence that seafarers’ mental health problems are exacerbated by their work patterns and workplace environments, resulting in a growing number of seafarers taking their own lives. But the true scale of this problem is currently unknown.

“Seafarers UK will be calling for the MLC to be modified so suicides at sea must be reported promptly and in a transparent manner,” Spencer says.

Seafarers UK believes that all merchant seafarers should have free internet access for use at all times when they are not actually working and all seafarers on merchant vessels should be deemed to be ‘key workers’ by all countries, while the benefits packages for merchant seafarers should be at least comparable to those offered to people who work ashore.

In countless seafarer surveys in recent years, access to internet at sea has been among the biggest gripes for the hundreds of thousands of men and women working on the world’s merchant fleet.

This important point is one keenly advocated by Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).

“First and foremost,” he tells Splash, “we need governments to adhere to the commitments they have already made under the MLC. We have seen far too many examples of governments ignoring their existing commitments under the MLC during this coronavirus pandemic. This leaves seafarers without the backing they deserve and leaves shipowners without the support they need to safely facilitate crew change. Addressing this issue must be the priority.”

David Heindel, chair of the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s Seafarers’ Section argues that the MLC is a living document made to be updated from time to time to remain relevant to changes within the industry, and modern community expectations around labour standards and practices. The 14-year-old instrument has some areas that are in need of strengthening, he argues.

“One important area for improvement, which has been highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic, is enforcement. The MLC lacks expedient enforcement mechanisms and remedy procedures if and when the MLC’s provisions are breached by a company, or even by a country,” Heindel suggests.

Heindel criticises certain port states and flag states – even some home countries of major seafarer providers – for ignoring their responsibilities to support seafarer repatriation upon completion of their contracts during the present crew change crisis. There are more than 300,000 seafarers trapped working aboard vessels worldwide beyond their contracts and an equal number unemployed at home waiting to join ships.

“Realising the rights of seafarers to crew change necessarily requires governments to introduce travel, transit and border exemptions for seafarers to get to and from ships. However, most governments have not done this. The world should be asking what are the consequences for states which ignore seafarers’ human rights?,” Heindel warns.

Beyond enforcement and crew changes, Heindel reckons other areas which could be addressed in reforms to the MLC include seafarers’ medical care and protocols; social security; shore leave; contract length; and skill development.

Splash will be reporting on the changes to the MLC in the months ahead.

The MLC changes also featured strongly in recent Splash TV episodes with Brandt Wagner, the ILO’s point man for shipping, discussing what amendments might be on the cards and Wallem boss Frank Coles bringing up issues such as work/rest hours and wifi onboard.


  1. With the denial of medical care by coastal states around the world, might it be prudent to require doctors on board all ships, instead of only passenger ships, from now on?

    1. A very heroic suggestion and one we’d all like to see transpire. But with crews of only 20 on most ships today, he/she would be bored stiff. I took the “Ship Captain’s Medical Course” in Plymouth when l went up for my MFG. What a hoot! 10 years of medicine in 4 days. We learned all about ectopic pregnancies, MacBurnie’s point, etc. I even attended an operation. An old lady was getting an Austin-Moore prosthesis, which l, raised on English cars, immediately called an “Austin-Morris” prosthesis. The surgeon was an ex-Australian Navy pilot. He had a mischievous streak. The first incision was so long and gory that my two pals fainted. I felt a bit wobbly. But l enjoyed it. So my advice would be to improve the quality of First Aid and Medical knowledge amongst seafarers, in addition to support services like the outfit in Italy which gives medical advice to seafarers. Is that still operating? They will never give you a doctor.

      1. I worked for Denholms of Glasgow for 20 years as C/O and Master. The company sent their Senior Officers and Ch.Stwds for 5 days attendance at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in the Casualty Dept.
        We were taught to Stitch etc., it was v. useful. Afterwards, I thought that this should be made compulsory.

  2. Good day sir.
    There are some vessel of italian flag sir they dont think about risk assesement of the crew,most of the time when we work at enclosed space or any work that required permit they dont want to make any permit i ask the chief officer of the ahip about risk assessment then he answered work first ater that you will sign the is acceptable sir?thats why im here to suggest that port authority inspect about risk assessment because other officer they dont matter about the rules of the ahip.thank you and advance sir.god blessed

  3. Guy Platten and David Heindel both got it right by stating that enforcement of the current MLC 2013 is very weak as demonstrated by the poor response to seafarer repatriation during the current Coronavirus pandemic. This has to be the most important step emphasised in any new amendments. It is pointless doing a review to revise the current Convention if member states are going to ignore the existing legal requirements!

  4. There is no such thing a a “standard 11 month contract” and repeating this plays into the hands of employers, flag States and others who play fast and loose with seafarers rights. I am trying to assist seafarers with 3, 4 or 6 month contracts which ended months ago. They are entitled to be repatriated but all we hear is “11 months max”. Let’s be clear, as much as I want there to be and as much as the intention of MLC 2006 was to provide a maximum period on board, the wording means that there is no maximum unless a state – flag or port – say so. The wording states that a seafarer is “entitled” to be repatriated after 12 months (11 months plus basic leave = 12 months). But if he/she doesn’t take up that entitlement they can stay. They can sign a new contract for another 4 months. And many do. That is exactly what is happening during this crisis. In Australia it seems the authorities will not tolerate anyone on board longer than 11 months (still does not mean that is “standard”). In the UK, as elsewhere, the authorities will not intervene if the seafarer has “willingly” signed an extension or a new contract. The problem with this is that many enforcing authorities do not appear to have the wit or the will to recognise that many are not signing “willingly”. They are given the option. Sign willingly or you won’t be re-employed. The intention of a maximum period on board was to protect the health and safety of the crew member, the rest of the crew, the ship and others. But the intention is circumvented so easily by the word “entitled”. This part of MLC 2006 should be changed to identify an absolute maximum period on board, whether the seafarer wants to remain “willingly” or not.

    1. You hit the nail bang-on the head! I’ve sailed since 1980, seen much… Two years back I had non payment issues with Indian owners/flag and got negligible help or response from local or foreign entities who are mandated to assist/act as per MLC’06. I had to slug it out alone.
      There’s too much that’s wrong – seafarers are the lowest priority.

    2. Indeed ! This is one of the weakest points ! Nobody wants to stay onboard more than 4/5 months max ! It is only the fear that ee do not know when will get the chance of re-joining and many times somehow forced to remain onboard . MLC must state a max clear figure of contract period , willing or not willing and this should not be more than 5 months . Thank you .

  5. Flag states need to improve their inspection and enforcement regimes (eg Mauritius made ONE inspection for the whole of 2019 according to the IOMoU’s 2019 report). Both flag states and port states need to take their responsibilities seriously – including inspecting ships and publishing all accident reports promptly and openly – and those that don’t should be penalised. As David Heindel says, it’s pointless to have rules without enforcement and sanctions for those that fail to comply.

    Criminalisation of seafarers and their detention without trial (or even a formal charge) should certainly make a country liable to international sanctions. A certain Indian Ocean country’s abuse of its own laws and legal procedures and of human rights in holding two men as hostages to try to increase compensation payments (for damage which appears to have been largely the result of that country’s own negligence) is a disgrace.

    I’m not sure whether it’s appropriate to make free access to the internet a right, as Seafarers UK is suggesting, but had there been such access the Wakashio disaster would not have happened (I’m not making any judgement here about the specific decisions that brought about its grounding and the subsequent spill of bunkers).

  6. 1. Some Master fabricates false reports against seafarers n make log book entries. They are keeping seafarers in fear n forcing to do extra work. Like this master doesn’t care rest hours of crew.
    2. Quality of food to be improved. Some Master provide cheap quality food n they have good hold in company so seafarer can’t do anything.
    3. Officers and ratings should be promoted on basis on rank experience without any exam same like govt employees,

    Officers n ratings

  7. The need for the organization to put pressure on the local authorities to allow the crew to take normal leave at COVID-19 shows the need for the organization! Otherwise it is just a blank check, all day long to produce too many changes to the convention is useful?

  8. In my personal opinion, the P & I insurance coverage in case of accident that resulted to death or disability during sea service should revise and increase the amount as this is already past due and
    not in accordance with present standard of living. It can be made standard to all member by technical working group of IMO.

  9. Do you want suggestion., i suggest give all ratings seafarer an acces to Any ITF DIRECT CALL to report all abusive officers… its one reason why a seafarer never return on a ship.. if one officers find one crew answering them or giving them explanation of one problem that happen ,many officers find it so offensive that they even keep on watching a crew that they dont like and they always give them a hard time to work..,why i said that because it hqppens on me,. The officers are wrong and keep on giving hqrd time of work pressuring the crew ntil the crew fail of so much work then its the time for them to put the crew on a list of No Return…in a ship a person who work so hard insilence has no chance to return while a crew that doesnt work but so friendly to all officers are the one who stays on a ship and mostly they are the one who are arrogant because they are a friend of officers… let this kind of practice be stop.

  10. To exploit the situation the young officers who obtain their COC after apprenticeship are hired as JO/JE ( I/o 3rd Off/ 4th Eng ). This way shipping companies hire them for about USD 1200/1500 all told with a word of caution that the owners are doing a favour by giving them a chance to work on board as an officer and gain experience.
    This practice is followed on all types of vessels. This must be looked into to ban the bonded labour trend. This rank of JO/JE must be abolished.

  11. Totally agree.sooooo many issues we can talk about but the terrible response to seafarer repatriation during the pandemic is the perfect example how the ship owners, country goverments and the MLC; see no evil , hear no evil to their advantage whenever it is necesary.
    Let’s cross fingers a real international action plan has been put already in place in order to this time manage situation faster and better & get us and passengers out of those vessels once the virus hit us back again.
    Yes you hear me right.with or without vaccine,This virus is here to stay.
    Just like flu, influenza,Hiv etc…

  12. About rating working hours fixed overtime guaranted 85hrs or 105hrs got this system abusing rating,crew resthour always from ship staff problem rights of the ship crew mostly not follow this point mostly shipcrew agreeing all time open during open overtime.
    Ship Internet must be sufficient
    Foods recreation shore leave shipboard pay some ship staff mostly give limited 500 dollars ,bullying ,culture ship stores low quality

  13. I dream that someday, seafarers all over the world will be treated with the same respect and honor as their counterparts in Airline industry, where crew will have special access to the ports with special lanes dedicated for them w/out treating them like terrorist or smugglers. Nowadays, even this pandemic not yet started, a lot of ports do not issue shore passes to the crew, others need to be paid to acquire, where supposed to be it should be free and a right of the seafarer. Hopefully all ports in the world will be directed to make sure that they should have those arrangements as part of their requirements to operate their ports, if this will not be compulsory to all ports, and nobody will check and monitor compliance, for sure all written regulations will only end up like barking dogs w/out teeth.

  14. 1. Insurance againt abandonment to be up to 4 monthly wages, but not only for crew onboard and if owner states bankrupted, but in all cases of delay Over 30 days, regardless ex crew and if announced bankruptcy. Then insurer to chase owner, not seaman to claim legal cases against delayed payment party.

    2. Mattresses need to have provsion for renew each 5 years.

    3. It need to be forbidden 91 Working hours week due to fatique and incidents. Max 77 Working hours option to remain only.

    4. Cost of flag endorsements and flag seaman book to be clearly banned for seafareres account. They are benefiting ship owner in all respects, and to be for owner account in all cases.

    5. To have mandatory provision, after expiry of conract, any extension to be with double gross wages.

    6. To be banned range option for contract duration exceeding +/- 30 days, or this range option to be in One side favor option only.

    1. Additionally , I strongly beleive that the Owners should be obliged to pay the seafarers during vacations , too . True that at their turn , sea personnel should oblige to return on the vessel . This fear of … when I will manage to emark back and start earning money … is the worst part of this hard , extremely hard job . This must pe shaped and inserted in MLC !

  15. Great remarks but who is going to help us. Nobody wants to dirty their hands when it comes to seafarers. All we get are false promises.
    One of the things we should really consider and change is the exam system in particular oral exam. This should be abolished once and for all. It all depends upon the whims and fancies of just one person and if he/ she likes you then that parson pass otherwise failing is eminent. This thing needs to be stopped right away. It’s an unnecessary harassment to all. Shipping itself is a huge topic and then to satisfy one person is absolutely ridicules. Hope someone takes note of this too. Oral exam doesn’t make you a better officer with all the knowledge. If you are a parrot you can vomit in front of the surveyor but if you aren’t then only God can help you. I hope that someone takes initiative to get this thing abolished once and for all.

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