The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) is an international agreement of the International Labour Organisation (‘ILO’) which sets out seafarers’ rights to decent conditions of work.  It is sometimes called the seafarers’ Bill of Rights.  It applies to all seafarers, including those with jobs in hotel and other passenger services on cruise ships and commercial yachts,

In 2013 the MLC became binding law for 30 countries. As of July 2017, a total of 84 countries had ratified the MLC 2006, which has resulted in more than 90% of the world’s shipping fleet being regulated – UPDATE FROM ILO WEBSITE.

More than 100 pages long, the MLC 2006 sets minimum requirements for nearly every aspect of working and living conditions for seafarers including recruitment and placement practices, conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, repatriation, annual leave, payment of wages, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, occupational safety and health, medical care, onshore welfare services and social protection.


  • The MLC is an international legal instrument and therefore does not apply directly to ships, ship owners or seafarers.  Countries choose whether or not to sign the MLC (i.e. to ratify the MLC).
  • If a country ratifies the MLC, then it must implement the requirements of the MLC through its national laws, applicable collective bargaining agreements, or other measures, or in practice.
  • Owners of ships registered in a ratifying country have to follow those national laws or other measures.
  • Ratifying countries then inspect the ships registered under their flag and issue a certificate if the ship complies with the MLC.
  • Ratifying countries may also choose to inspect any ship coming into one of their ports to ensure that is compliant with the MLC.  If it is not, the ship may be detained.
  • The MLC contains minimum standards only. Seafarers may have better standards under relevant national laws, or under their employment agreements.


Despite the high ratification level, a fair question is whether this international legal document will have an impact on seafarers’ lives. Will it make a difference for seafarers and will it help to better ensure that every seafarer’s rights are in fact respected in practice?

Already since August 2013 several ships in ports in several countries have been detained by Port State Control authorities for problems relating to MLC 2006 compliance.

Seafarers’ Rights International is currently undertaking a major study into the effectiveness of the MLC on an international scale.  The study has been commissioned by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and will take a deep and comprehensive look at how the Convention is being implemented and enforced across the globe.

As a centre of education, SRI is also committed to providing clear guidance to seafarers on what legal action they can take should they find themselves in a situation that threatens their rights and contravenes the MLC.  A series of short, informative videos, ‘Your MLC, Your Standards, Your Protection’, provides a basic explanation of how the MLC effects specific working conditions of seafarers.  They can be viewed here:


MLC 2006 is specifically designed to establish a continuous ‘compliance awareness’ at every stage, from the national systems of protection up to the international system. This starts with the individual seafarers who need to be properly informed of their rights and of the remedies available in case of alleged non-compliance.

Under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (‘MLC’), a seafarer has the fundamental right:

  • To be of minimum age
  • To be trained and certified
  • To fair recruitment and placement
  • To an employment agreement
  • To be paid wages
  • To regulated hours of work and rest
  • To leave
  • To be repatriated
  • To compensation if ship is lost or founders
  • To adequate manning
  • To career and skill development
  • To decent accommodation and recreational facilities onboard
  • To good quality food and drinking water
  • To medical care on board ship and shore
  • To material assistance following sickness, injury or death
  • To health and safety protection and accident prevention
  • To access shore based welfare facilities
  • To social security protection
  • To flag state and port state responsibilities
  • To complain on board and onshore


Seafarers also have the right to:

  • associate and to bargain collectively. This is the right to join a trade union of choice and to bargain collectively.
  • freedom from forced labour. This is the right not to be treated as a slave.
  • not to be subjected to child labour.
  • the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.


If you feel your rights under the MLC have been breached, you can confidentially complain, without victimization, to:

  • Your Security Officer
  • The Ship Master
  • The Ship Owner
  • Port State Control onshore

Under the MLC, they will follow a complain procedure and will carry out an investigation.  For more guidance, you can watch our video: How to Make a Complaint


MLC 2006 is a ‘living tree’ and continues to develop as more countries ratify the Convention and new amendments are discussed to address emerging needs in the maritime sector.  Progress can be seen in this dateline:


The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) is adopted


On August 20 2013 the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006) became binding international law for 30 countries located in nearly every region of the world.


In April 2014, a meeting of the Special Tripartite Committee reviewed  proposed amendments related to financial protection for the serious problem of abandonment of seafarers.

– By December 2014, a total of 65 countries had ratified the MLC 2006


February 2016, the ILO MLC Special Tripartite Committee (STC) and the Ad Hoc Tripartite Maritime Committee agreed to:

  • establish a working group to prepare proposals for an amendment to protect seafarers’ wages when they are held captive, on or off the vessel as victims of a criminal act
  • to address harassment and bullying onboard ships with the inclusion of the recently published ICS and ITF guidelines
  • to adopt a resolution on the facilitation of access to shore leave and transit of seafarers

– In April 2016, The ITF commissions SRI to conduct a comprehensive study of the MLC

– By April 2016, 72 countries have ratified the MLC (2006).