UN Labor Committee Says Member States Must Act for Seafarers’ Welfare

Singapore freight forwarders – Star Concord

A Committee of Experts from the United Nation’s International Labour Organization became the latest global organization to add its voice to the urgent need to address the issues of seafarers’ welfare created by the restrictions related to the pandemic. The committee expressed its “deep concern” saying that member states need to honor the Maritime Labour Convention and act immediately.

In a six-page opinion issued by the committee, they said that member states needed to follow the provisions of the MLC especially as it related to medical care and reparation. The called for action by member states and cooperation as well as inspections to ensure that the issues are being addressed.

The finding follows submissions made by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). The committee reported that it had reviewed the information from the labor organizations as well as replies from a broad range of governments that have adopted the MLC and hundreds of individual seafarers’ complaints sent to the committee.

The ILO committee also said that it welcomed the resolutions recently adopted by the UN General Assembly, the ILO Governing Body, and the IMO urging member states to designate seafarers as key workers and make accommodations to facilitate the safe and unhindered movement of seafarers. They cited access to shore-based medical treatment, movement for embarkation, disembarkation, and shore leave. They encouraged states that have not already done so to proceed without delay to “restore the respect of their rights as provided for in the MLC.”

The committee also stressed that the notion of force majeure may no longer be invoked from the moment that options are available to comply with the provisions of the MLC.

The ITF and ICS responded with a prepared statement calling the committee’s observation “a landmark ruling” that they believed “sent a strong message to governments.” The labor organizations called it the first ruling of its kind saying that governments have failed to protect the minimum standards defined in the MLC.

“This ruling makes clear that all governments have to follow international law and urgently recognize seafarers as key workers with practical effect,” said ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton and ICS Secretary General Guy Platten in their joint statement. “We welcome the intervention from the ILO Committee of Experts in spelling out how governments have failed in their obligations. The Committee is unequivocal in its critique of the lack of required cooperation by governments. It criticizes states for allowing the situation to persist for so long.”

The labor organizations said that governments have been asked for months to address the crew change crisis, and now they have been told that they must act to help the hundreds of thousands of seafarers still on-board ships. They thanked the committee for its clarity and also outlining the steps that must be taken.

The opinion lays out 10 points that the committee says member states that have not done so need to adopt. This includes consent from seafarers for contract extensions, prohibiting forgoing minimum annual leave with pay provisions, and ensuring shore leave for their health and well-being. They also include ensuring that the seafarers are not paying fees for reparation or required quarantine as well as safe operations and measures to protect the health of seafarers. The committee notes the challenges to conduct inspections but requests that member states take steps to ensure the steps are taken and followed.

The committee concluded by saying it will continue to examine the information to ascertain compliance with the convention by member states during this period of crisis.

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