On Monday 16 September, The Crew Report attended a seminar hosted by Clyde & Co on the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), during which Paul Newdick, Heidi Watson and Trudy Grey discussed its key issues for the maritime industry. The seminar examined the scope and operation of the Convention, its significance for the industry, identified some key problems and looked at the challenges of implementation and enforcement.

Paul Newdick, consultant at Clyde & Co, began the presentation by highlighting that the effect of the MLC was taking place already. “In the first three weeks since the Convention has come into force, there have been two detentions already,” revealed Newdick, referring to a Liberian-flagged vessel detained in Denmark due to the lack of employment contracts on board and a Cyprus-flagged vessel detained in Canada after the authorities received complaints from the crew regarding alleged MLC deficiencies. “It is already evident that the MLC is a convention with teeth,” Newdick stated. “These early detentions highlight the risk posed by the new power of seafarers to cause delays in port.”

Newdick continued to discuss the slightly delayed ratification of the Convention by the UK. “The UK was making noise about ratifying for a few years,” Newdick explained, “but they were taking their time to make sure that they had everything in force before anything was implemented.” The discussion moved on to the notable absentees of the USA, China and South Korea from the convention thus far. “We don’t think the USA are going to ratify, but they are putting plans in place to make sure they don’t get caught out,” Newdick explained. “Even non-ratified states can't escape and need to consider the effects of the MLC as the fourteen minimum requirements still apply.”

Heidi Watson, partner at Clyde & Co, took to the stage to examine the fundamental labour principles set out in the Convention, revealing one particular issue that could prove problematic for the superyacht industry. “The elimination of discrimination is one principle to watch for the future,” said Watson. “There will probably be more questioning over wages based on nationality.” This is particularly relevant as owners and recruitment agencies within the superyacht industry are known to specify preferences for crew nationalities (as we discuss in issue 66 of The Crew Report) and it is the norm in the maritime industry in general to offer differing levels of salary depending on the nationality of crew.

Other issues raised by Watson included the confusion over the definition of who constitutes as a ‘seafarer’, so identifying who the Convention actually applies to. “The International Labour Organization (ILO) has recognised the ambiguity of who it applies to,” explained Watson. "This is particularly in respect of occasional and short term work on board." In the case of the superyacht industry, this uncertainty could arise over guest entertainers, armed guards, specialist technicians or any other person that is occasionally found working on board but is not considered a permanent employee.

“There will probably be more questioning over wages based on nationality." - Heidi Watson, Clyde & Co

The audience were told that the ILO, in response to this ambiguity, has said: “A person or category of persons should not automatically be excluded from the definition of seafarers solely on account of falling within one or more of the categories listed above.” Watson explained that many states have taken this answer and excluded all ambiguous categories in a blanket approach. But the ILO urges states to consider several factors including: the duration of the stay on board of the persons concerned; the frequency of periods of work spent on board; the location of the person’s principal place of work. “The debate over who is and who is not a seafarer will rage for some time,” predicted Watson.
In the final thoughts of the seminar, Watson identified that the on-board complaints procedure is where the convention will have its real teeth, emphasising the importance for managers to put procedures in place to limit the amount of complaints. “Unions are making members very aware of these rights,” said Watson, “So vessels need to implement a complaints procedure on board that the crew trust so that complaints don’t get taken on shore.”

The seminar closed with a question and answer session where the capabilities of the Port State Control inspectors to handle MLC-related issues were brought under scrutiny. “It is true that Port State Control is used to a more technical role rather than dealing with human issues,” Newdick responded. “But time will tell if sufficient training and support has been put in place.” The seminar concluded with the sentiment that, if this Convention is to be workable, much will depend on the practicalities of implementation and enforcement and the ironing out of any problems. “Given this is the first maritime labour convention with real teeth, the tools are certainly there to make it happen,” concluded Newdick. “We will wait to see how well the industry responds to the challenge.”

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