international centre for advancing the legal protection of seafarers
IMPLEMENTING THE MARITIME LABOUR CONVENTION IN A FAST MOVING WORLD
Deirdre Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of SRI, speaks at CMA Shipping 2014
Speaking at CMA early last month, Deirdre Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of SRI, gave her verdict on the practical aspects of putting the MLC into practice in the fast moving shipping industry. She pointed out that whilst the industry moves rapidly technologically and economically, in terms of labour and seafarers’ rights, it still lags behind many shoreside industries.
“Without doubt, one of the early successes of the MLC has been the level of ratifications,” said Ms Fitzpatrick. “By December 2014 the MLC will be binding law for countries regulating more than 80% of the world’s shipping fleet.”
“However, there are still a number of major states who have not ratified the Convention, supplying about 30% of seafarers to the market. To recruit and retain quality seafarers, the challenge remains to achieve more ratifications – in particular from Asia, but also from countries in Latin America, the Middle East countries, and the Indian Ocean.”
Ms Fitzpatrick identified a second early success of the MLC, the involvement of port states in enforcing the Convention.
“The MLC was greatly publicised as having teeth and that it would not be just a ‘law on the books’ for seafarers. If you look at Paris MOU detentions in the period August 2013 to 5 March 2014 – the first seven months since MLC came into force – nearly 30% of the 359 ships detained had MLC deficiencies.
A word of caution was, however, issued by Ms Fitzpatrick. Of those 97 ships detained for MLC deficiencies, it seems that 39 had MLC certificates. “The challenge is that the MLC must reach the minority of potentially substandard ships ensuring that they do not enjoy a competitive advantage. The pressure is therefore on targeting port state control inspections in order to help deliver the global level playing field that the MLC seeks to achieve.”
Then Ms Fitzpatrick – herself a maritime lawyer – delivered her third challenge, “Don’t make the lawyers too rich.” She emphasised the inevitability that as States have a wide discretion on implementation of the MLC at the national level, different interpretations will emerge as seafarers’ rights are on the whole delivered by national courts, at the national level. “This makes the way MLC is implemented at the national level of crucial importance,” she explained. “The challenge is therefore to encourage as much uniformity as possible in implementing the Convention. This will ensure that a level playing field exists for those countries and shipowners committed to providing decent working and living conditions for seafarers, protecting them from unfair competition on the part of substandard ships.”
Ms Fitzpatrick then turned to the seafarers’ perspectives on the MLC and their rights in general.
“Seafarers are not yet sufficiently aware of their rights under the Convention,” she said. “They are not ready to use the complaints procedure – especially on-board, and they have an ever-present fear of facing criminal charges.”
Reinforcing this point, Ms Fitzpatrick referred to the recent SRI Criminal Survey. “Almost half (46.44%) of the seafarers in the survey said that they would be reluctant to co-operate fully and openly with casualty inquiries and accident investigators. The main reasons given were that they are concerned they would be implicated in a crime; they do not trust the authorities; and they are concerned that co-operation would have a prejudicial affect upon their employment.”
A seafarer said: ”We need to be treated with respect. I don’t want any privileges. I just want to be treated fairly.”
She concluded that a successful, fast and furious industry is an aim shared by all included in the shipping industry – and is exactly what seafarers want as well. “It is a question of balance,” she explained. “People and not ships move cargo, and while there is never a good time to have to spend money on implementing new legislation, there is a fair balance to be struck between capital expenditure and investing in crew. MLC is an instrument to help achieve that balance.”
“Following the entry into force of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006) last year, SRI now faces a major challenge in the months ahead, seeking to ensure that seafarers’ rights under the Convention are delivered in practice.”
“Seafarers’ rights need to continue to be developed both at the international and the national levels until seafarers can have the same security and the same rights as land based workers. We must assist seafarers to understand what MLC 2006 means to them and how it can improve their working lives.”
SRI LEGAL DATABASE
With nearly 1,000 visitors since its launch last July, the new SRI Legal Database has proved a valuable resource for those wishing to develop their knowledge in the field of seafarers and the law.
Providing a comprehensive collection of materials on seafarers’ rights, including national and international laws, treaties, cases and other legal materials, SRI’s team of researchers has endeavoured to bring together the highest quality information sources, offering both breadth and depth of content.
To date, there are over 500 documents on the Legal Database covering topics ranging from legal aid legislation and lawyers’ codes of conduct, to international agreements on maritime labour and migrant worker treaties.
“We are working to increase interest among lawyers in seafarers’ rights and help them develop expertise across the range of maritime, labour and human rights laws,” says Deirdre Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of SRI. ”The SRI Legal Database is a tangible demonstration of our commitment to provide legal support to the political, industrial, campaigning and lobbying agenda working for the promotion, protection and enforcement of seafarers’ rights under a just system of laws. We believe this will raise awareness on issues of seafarers’ laws, rights and remedies among policy makers, lobbyists, academics, legal practitioners and stakeholders generally in the maritime industry and beyond.”
“We will continue to work to establish seafarers’ rights as a standard subject for students of law, identify current issues in the maritime industry concerning seafarers that can be developed further into outreach projects with practical outcomes for seafarers and others working to assist them; and produce publications, such as online toolkits, guidelines for lawyers and checklists for seafarers.”
Many of the documents on the database link out to other websites and online databases, ensuring users have the most up-to-date versions of documents. Links include government websites, national databases, databases of international organisations, maritime databases, human rights databases, and academic online databases. In addition SRI has created a special page for seafarers where more practical documents on the database can be easily accessed by them. To visit the SRI Legal Database click here.
WWW.SEAFARERSRIGHTS.ORG IN NUMBERS
~Over 19,000 people visited the SRI website in 2013, up 15% on 2012~
~The average length of stay was nearly 3 minutes~
~19% of visitors were from the UK, 17% from the Philippines,
11% from USA and 5% from India~
NEW SEAFARER SUBJECT GUIDES
SRI has made two new additions to its series of Seafarer Subject Guides – on ship arrest and maritime liens.
One of the most common complaints handled by seafarer organisations is unpaid or underpaid wages of seafarers.
Yet seafarers do have recourse to the law, in the form of the maritime lien. A lien is a charge against property for payment of debt, and a maritime lien is a claim laid against maritime property, most often a vessel, but may also be brought against other personal property involved in maritime transactions such as cargo.
To shed light on this process, SRI has now produced a series of national Subject Guides on Ship Arrest for Seafarers’ Wages, and on the related topic of Maritime Lien for Seafarers’ Wages. These can be found in the relevant Seafarers’ Subjectsarea of the SRI website.
These accompany the national Subject Guides on Using Lawyers, and the summary Fact Files on Using Lawyers, which were successfully launched last year, and cover the law in 33 countries around the world. Summary Fact Files on Ship Arrest for Seafarers’ Wages and Maritime Lien for Seafarers’ Wages are planned for later in the year.