India running against time to ratify Maritime Labour Convention

The Maritime Labour Convention established by International Labour Organisation (ILO) will come into effect globally on August 20, 2013.

Adopted on February 23, 2006, the convention consolidates and updates 69 previous ILO standards on maritime matters into a single document. It aims to provide protection to seafarers by setting common standards for working conditions acceptable to seafarers operating under any national flag.

Commonly referred as MLC-2006, it also, for the first time, created a system of certification and inspection to enforce those standards. MLC-2006 is not applicable to vessels operating on inland waterways.

Primarily MLC-2006 has set solid and uniform rules for the workers, employers and Governments involved in commerce at sea, which provides a model for tackling the most pressing globalisation challenges of our time.

Second, it is the first major comprehensive set of global labour standards to be adopted without the opposition of any of its tripartite stakeholders — in this case, representatives of seafarers, ship-owners and Governments.

Third, the Convention contains common sense and viable provisions for its own enforcement. No longer will seafarers or ship-owners face a bewildering array of national laws subject to differing international labour standards.

International pressure

More importantly, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), an arm of the United Nations (UN), which deals with international shipping in terms of safety, training and environment protection, has taken steps to implement it and to check for compliance under their Port State Control mechanism. This means that ships/countries which have not ratified the convention will not be able to take undue advantage of non-compliance with MLC requirements after the convention comes into force on August 20, 2013.

This will be ensured by the “no more favourable treatment clause”, wherein, when these ships call at ports located in countries that have ratified the convention, they will, in all likelihood, be subjected to greater scrutiny for compliance with MLC-2006 labour standards. In a worst case scenario, the errant ships could be banned from entering ports of a particular country.

So far, about 35 countries have ratified MLC-2006, more than the minimum 30 required for the convention to become effective.

India is yet to ratify the MLC-2006, though the Government has drafted a Bill on Right of Seafarers. The ratification of MLC -2006 requires legislative changes, amendment to Indian Merchant Shipping Act. The Union Cabinet has approved the ratification. The Directorate General of Shipping has indicated that the ratification process is in an advanced stage.

However, since the convention will come into effect from August 20, Indian vessels calling at ports of countries which already ratified the convention could be subject to greater scrutiny. The Indian overseas trade is in excess of $1,000 billion. It is estimated that approximately one per cent of this, that is $10 billion, is carried on Indian ships. Thus, if Indian ships are targeted due to our country not ratifying the MLC, then it could seriously jeopardise the very business itself, thereby, adversely affecting a large segment of ancillary businesses, and not to mention the livelihood of persons — seafarers being the first!

Special protection

Considering the global nature of shipping industry, wherein ship owner, manager of ship, flag of the ship and the seafarer may belong to different nationalities, IMO has acknowledged that seafarers need special protection, and has declared MLC-2006 as the fourth pillar of its edifice, with SOLAS, STCW, MARPOL ( other conventions) being the first three.

Over and above this, all recruitment of seafarers, from any country whatsoever has to be regulated by the flag state. Indian seafarers are fortunate to have the Government bring about Recruitment and Placement Services (RPS) rules, which look after their interests.

Associations like MASSA (Maritime Association of Ship owners, Ship Managers and Agents), who have 32 registered RPS companies, have supported the Directorate General of Shipping, in re-creating the RPS rules towards effective implementation of MLC-2006.

The non-ratification of MLC-2006 by India could prove costly for Indian seafarers, especially those recruited by a RPS, sailing aboard, on Indian vessels, who will be put at a severe disadvantage as they will be exposed to stringent inspection measures by the Port State control of the country they sail to.

This is a fall-out of the “no more favourable treatment clause.”

Will India expedite the actions towards acceptance and implementation of an international law? Will the powers that be at the centre recognise the jeopardy they are putting our seafarers and ships to by not accepting and reacting to the globalised nature of their jobs?

It makes sense to ratify the MLC-2006, before August, 20, 2013, lest our country be dubbed a laggard towards respecting globalisation and effective implementation of international policy.

Source: The Hindu Business Line

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