Regulation 5.1.5, paragraph 1 of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) relates to the requirement for an on-board complaint procedure. Under the MLC, 2006 seafarers have to be properly informed of their rights and of the remedies available in case of alleged non-compliance with MLC requirements and whose right to make complaints, both on board ship and ashore, is recognised in the Convention.
The obligation is on flag states to adopt laws or regulations to ensure that appropriate on-board complaint procedures are in place. The guidelines recommend that a model for those procedures should be developed by the competent authority in close consultations with owners, managers and seafarer organisations. Captains of MLC-compliant yachts are also responsible for carrying out the plans, and for keeping proper record to evidence implementation of the requirements.
A copy of the complaint procedure, as well as a MLC Complaint Form, should be posted on board in all the relevant locations for complaints related to any matter that is alleged to constitute a breach of the provisions of the MLC. Those able to make a complaint as per the MLC include seafarers, professional bodies, associations, trade unions, or generally any person with interest in the safety of the ship, including an interest in safety or health hazards to seafarers on board.
In a circular to its fleet, the Maritime Cook Islands map out the process of producing a complaint procedure on board a Cook Islands flagged vessel for the fair, effective and expeditious handling of seafarer complaints alleging breaches of the provisions of the MLC 2006. The key points are highlighted in the following.
Minimum content of Complaint Procedure
Every Cook Islands’ flagged vessel shall provide seafarers with a copy of the On-Board Complaints procedure applicable. The On-Board Complaints procedure shall include; the competent authority contact information in the flag state; each seafarers’ country of residence authority, if different from the flag state; the name of one or more persons on board the ship who can, on a confidential basis, provide seafarers with impartial advice on their complaints and also assistance regarding the procedure for the processing of complaints available on board the vessel.
Aim and language of MLC Complaint procedure
The MLC, 2006 does not contain a model, but sets out some basic principles in Regulation 5.1.5 and Standard A5.1.5. These principles include the aim to resolve complaints at the lowest possible level, but to allow a right to appeal directly to the captain or appropriate external authorities, as well as the right for the seafarer to be accompanied or represented, and to receive impartial advice, and safeguards against victimisation for filing complaints.
Timing of the MLC Complaint
As mentioned previously, complaints should be sought to be resolved at the lowest level possible; and only when the matter cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties shall it be elevated to the next level. The complainant seafarer shall submit his/her complaint in writing within seven days of the occurrence.
If, within the period of seven days, the complaint on board has not been resolved, then the period shall be extended for seven more additional days, with the sole purpose to find a favourable solution, which shall be recorded on the registries of the vessel and be available to the competent authorities.
The owner and the seafarer concerned shall have a period of 14 days there from to solve the matter. If after 14 days, the complaint has not been solved, then either party shall have a seven-day period to bring the matter to the maritime administration.
Seafarers have the right to complain directly to the captain and, where considered necessary, to the maritime authority or to appropriate external authorities. The complaint should be submitted no more than 21 days after the complaint form issuance date.
The complainant seafarer shall not be victimised and all complaints and decisions regarding them shall be recorded and a copy provided to the complainant seafarer. A complaint by a seafarer alleging a breach of the requirements of the MLC, 2006 may be made to an authorised officer in the port at which the seafarer’s ship has called in accordance with Standard A5.2.2.
Appropriate steps must be taken to safeguard the confidentiality of these complaints, and the receipt of the complaint should be recorded by the authorised officer and, in the event that matters are not resolved at the ship-board level, and it is not a matter for a more detailed inspection by a PSCO then the flag state’s competent authority must be contacted for advice and a corrective plan of action.
In cases where there is no reply from the flag state and the matter is not resolved, then the port state is required to send a copy to the ILO Director-General and to the appropriate shipowners’ and seafarer’s organizations in the port.
Port State Control
Port State Control Officers (PSCOs) may also be entrusted with handling and investigating complaints made by seafarers on vessels visiting their ports. If complaint handling is not part of their functions, they should be able to direct seafarers to the competent official for handling complaints or to receive complaints for transmittal to the competent official.
The inspection in ports must be limited to a review of the MLC certificate and declaration except in the following four cases:
· The required documents are not produced or maintained or are falsely maintained or the documents produced do not contain the information required by the Convention or are otherwise invalid;
· There are clear grounds for believing that the working and living conditions on the ship do not conform to the requirements of the Convention;
· There are reasonable grounds to believe that the ship has changed flag for the purpose of avoiding compliance with the Convention;
· There is a complaint alleging that specific working and living conditions on the ship do not conform to the requirements of the Convention.
In any of the above cases a more detailed inspection may be carried out to ascertain the working and living conditions on board the vessel.
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