Hi, Seamoor blog’s fans.
Every year on 30 September is World Maritime Day. This year IMO has announced the theme ‘Seafarers: at the core of shipping’s future’. I’m very appreciative. If there were no seafarers on a ship, the ship would be just a huge piece of metal floating in the sea without a direction. We need to totally accept that seafarers are the key person in driving and connecting the global economy. But, the existence, jobs and duties of seafarers are less known to the world.
Organizations involving in the shipping industry, commerce and ship navigation have continually shown the effort of setting international standards for every aspects, including ship’s operations, work conditions and well being of a seafarer. Especially concerning seafarer’s work and life, International Labour Organization (ILO) has together worked with various maritime organizations until it establishes Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006). This MLC 2006 is one of four pillars of international conventions of IMO.
Before we get into more details about MLC 2006, let’s wrapped up on all the four pillars of IMO.
The Four Pillars of International Conventions Governing the Shipping Industry
If there were no international conventions regulating the shipping industry, each port states would set its own rules which would lead to huge confusion. To prevent such matter, IMO, as a middleman, call for state members to cooperate in establishing international conventions to entry into force. Those conventions include:
- International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW): Its purpose is to set a uniform standards of competence in training, certification, and wathchkeeping before working at sea for seafarers of all departments, including navigation, engineer, electric, and communication. It also prescribes standards of knowledge for operations on special types of ships, e.g. a bunker, a chemical vessel, a liquid gas vessel, etc. The convention allows each state member to verify the standards of education and training of others before accepting seafarers from that state to work on ships flying their flag. The period of working and resting of seafarers are also described to protect work conditions on board and provide safety.
- International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS): The basic safety standards for equipment, a ship structure, and working on ships sailing on international voyage. This convention is created due to the sinking of the Titanic.
- International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78): Its main purpose is to reduce and prevent pollution from ships into oceans and seas. It covers river pollution and air pollution. Ships registered to states ratifying MARPOL need to strictly comply to MARPOL wherever it sails. State members are responsible to keep watching on the ships under their registration.
- Maritime Labor Convention (MLC 2006): This was established by ILO which aiming to consolidate all international rules and regulations relating to the protection of seafarers. It provides decent working and living standards for all seafarers on ships. In addition, it ensures fair competition and a level-playing field for quality owners of ships flying the flags of ratifying countries.
MLC 2006 differs from other conventions in that it enters into force to all states whether they ratify or not. It allows port states ratifying the convention to examine work conditions and contracts of seafarers on ships visiting their ports, and can detain the ships if the ships does not comply to MLC 2006.
2 Main Objectives of MLC 2006
- To collect and consolidate the system of protection contained in existing labour standards closer to the workers concerned, in a way conforming to the rapidly developing, globalized sector (ensuring decent work).
- To improve the applicability of the system so that shipowners and governments interested in providing decent conditions of work do not have to bear an unequal burden in ensuring protection (‘level-playing field’ – fair competition)
Benefits and Responsibilities for Shipowners from MLC 2006
MLC 2006 is created to apply globally. It takes into account all obstacles that may occur, so most shipowners can be sure that it is easy to understand and follow the minimum standards.
Under the same rules, shipowners are ensured of fair competition. The convention decreases substandard operations. Most ships will undergo inspection. Ships under 500 GRT can be inspected upon request.
Seafarers working on ships will be more capable, as prescribed in the convention. This directly benefits shipowners in more effective and productive work operations. Accident and incident will be prevented. Port delay decreases. In this way, the shipping industry will operate with social and environment responsibility.
Seafarer’s Rights from MLC 2006
It can be said that seafarers are the ones who benefit most from MLC 2006. The articles cover rights of seafarers in every aspects, including a hiring contract, medical cares, work conditions, well being and safety.
Most importantly, shipowners should provide a complaint system for seafarers if they find anything violates the convention.
MLC 2006 covers all these topics.
- Minimum requirement for seafarer to work on ship
- Conditions of employment
- Accommodation and recreational facilities
- Health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection
- Compliance and enforcement
When a ship enters a port, port state control will call for ship inspection on 16 areas according to the regulations and standards relating to work and living conditions of seafarers. If the ship were found any dissatisfaction, it would be detained for amendment before leaving the port. Those 16 areas are as followed,
- Minimum age
- Medical certificate
- Seafarer’s employment agreement
- Use of any licensed or certified or regulated private recruitment and placement service
- Hours of work and hours of rest
- Manning levels
- Recreation facilities
- Food and catering
- Health and safety protection and accident prevention
- Medical care onboard ship and ashore
- On-board compliant procedures
- Financial security for repatriation
- Financial security relating to shipowners’ liabilities
More details of each area is available in the Official Document of MLC 2006.
Adjustment of Thailand to International Maritime Conventions
Now, we will take a look into the development and obstacles relating to Thai maritime labour.
Thailand has ratified all the 4 conventions of IMO, but not all of the topics are accepted. For example, there are 6 chapters in MARPOL but Thailand accepts only 2 of them. The same situation occurs to MLC 2006. Thailand needs to accept because if not, ships flying Thai flag will face problems. As the special condition of MLC 2006, it enter into force globally whether ratify or not.
To ratify MLC 2006, Thailand must have its own laws that don’t violate MLC 2006. In doing so, Thailand has issued Maritime Labour Act B.E. 2558 which enter into force 180 days after declaration.
On March 29, B.E. 2559, Maritime Labour Act B.E. 2558 officially enters into force to all Thai-flagged commercial ships registered to sail internationally. To be more specific, 500 GRT or over Thai ships registered to be International Voyage or Near Coastal Voyage are force to comply to Maritime Labour Act B.E. 2558.
However, Thailand has come out with a list of ships which will not be included and enforced under Maritime Labour Act B.E. 2558. There are 8 types of them as followed.
- A governmental ship which are not for commercial purpose
- A ship of under 200 GRT sailing within Thai territory
- A ship serving in an area of a port, including a passenger or good boat, a tugboat, a towboat, or a rope delivering boat
- A pilot boat
- A boat navigating within a province
- A sport and recreation boat which is not commercial purpose
- A boat having features of Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit-MODU
- A ship sailing in specific water area (registered as ‘Local Trade’) or a sea ship which does not have an engine
If these 8 mentioned ships are not under Maritime Labour Act B.E. 2558, the purpose of MLC 2006 of taking care of seafarers on those ships won’t succeed. In my opinion, this is a bit strange. Seafarers are losing their deserved benefits. I’ve once seen an 80,000 GRT Thai-flagged ship registered as Local Trade and doesn’t be enforced under MLC 2006.
Some Interesting Points Concerning Maritime Labour Act B.E. 2558 (My Own Observations)
Apart from not including those mentioned 8 types of ships, Maritime Labour Act B.E.2558 has some points interestingly to be discussed here. It may have some law jargon, but it’s good to know.
1. Integration of governmental units
It is a bit curious to know that there are 4 governmental units involve in Maritime Labour Act B.E. 2558. As said in Section 5 of the Act, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Transport, Minister of Labour, and Minister of Public Health are assigned to control the execution of this Act. Each minister needs to appoint a competent official and issue a secondary legislation to execute this Act. There are a total of 67 secondary legislation as 32 from Ministry of Labour, 21 from Ministry of Transport, 5 from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and 9 from Ministry of Public Health. It’s hard to remember and comply to all of them.
When it comes to ship inspection, an official of each ministry must get on board. If an appointment can’t be arranged to occur all at once, it is annoying.
At the present, there is an effort to appoint a representative from Port State Control for inspection. The representative does the process for both MLC 2006 and all secondary legislation simultaneously. However, I still not see any obvious progression on such issue.
2. Seafarer’s welfare
Normally, every Thai worker are guaranteed to have medical welfare. This happens to Thai seafarers as well.
Thai seafarers have social security. But, Maritime Labour Act Section 4 paragraph 2 has canceled this out. Instead, it assigns shipowners to provide medical welfare to seafarers. If the shipowners is good, seafarers can be worry-free. But if it happened to be the other way round, it would be a big problem.
For example, in a fleet if there are ships registered both ‘Near Coastal’ and ‘Local Trade’, the enforcement of Maritime Labour Act on both ships is different. When swapping seafarers working between these ships, their names must be put in and out of the social security system. This is time consuming and hard to manage. Seafarer’s rights on both ships are different. As the present situation, seafarers on Local Trade ships get Covid-19 vaccine by the right from social security. But seafarers on Near Coastal ships have to wait for the arrangement from the shipowner.
I’ve heard that there will be a change so that all seafarers will receive social security. The process is in a hearing stage.
3. Working period onboard a ship
It is clearly states in MLC 2006 in Standard A 2.5.2 that the maximum duration of service periods on board to be less than 12 months, but Maritime Labour Act doesn’t mention it. I’ve once asked the Ministry of Labour about this issue and got the answer that the context of Thailand doesn’t want to reject a long term contract between an employer and an employee. And, if you want to be clear without referring to the international regulations and standards upon any case, Section 6 has stated to refer to the secondary legislation which is issued follow to Section 43 (18) on the condition of seafarers’ employment. This is on draft stage and wait for negotiation between shipowners and seafarers.
For now, let’s easily conclude that Thai seafarers can work on board less than 12 months. Though, it’s not stated in the Act but it can’t violates MLC 2006.
I don’t know why don’t make this clear and add other legislation to the appendixes.
4. Night work for seafarers under the age of 18
MLC Standard A1.1 Minimum age states that the night hours can be specified according to each country’s context but must not between the 9 hours of night time. The Act Section 16 have copied MLC’s sentence that says ‘night work shall cover a period of at least nine hours starting no later than midnight and ending no earlier than 5 a.m.’ This sentence is hard to interpret and understand.
Practically, it is hard for shipowners to comply to the Act so they choose not to hire a person under the age of 18. New younger generation seafarers lose their opportunities. Nowadays, an amendment is to be made so it is written clearly in Section 16 that the night period is 21.00-06.00. This shall eliminate confusion and easy to understand.
We shall wait for it.
5. Rest period of seafarers after working overtime
The Act has separately regulated the issue in Section 58 Regular Work, Section 59 work overtime, and Section 62 hours of rest. Readers have to refer back and forth and may end up in confusion.
There is a proposal to amend Section 59 to ‘A shipowner may request a seafarer to work overtime as necessary but when combining with a regular working hours under Section 58, it shall not exceed 14 hours in any 24 hour period and shall not exceed 72 hours in 7 days period or arrange hours of rest under Section 62 for a seafarer.’ In this case, referral among Sections is eliminated. Or, it can be easily said that a seafarer must be provided with hours of rest no less than 10 hours in 24 hours period and no less than 77 hours in 7 days period, and the hours of rest can be divided into 2 periods with one of the two must be at least 6 hours, and a time between those 2 periods must be no more than 14 hours.
These are some of the points I’ve discussed during the meeting about the Act. It’s been 5 years since the Act enters into force, but some of the detail is still not clear and can’t be practically forced. Secondary legislation is not yet concluded. However, governmental units, shipowners, and seafarers must work together and observe the Act because it governs and protects each party rights and benefits. So finally, the Act will truly be made for maritime labour.
Guest Writer: Old Captain Never Die
Update: 21 October 2021