How the MLC works and the key elements for crew
We published a previous Sealogical Blog post on the Maritime Labour Convention, which gave an overview on the key points and questioned whether it was clear enough for yacht owners and operators. Here, we look a little more closely at the articles contained within the MLC that directly affect crewmembers; essentially what an owner must do in relation to their welfare whilst they are on board.
In the UK alone, it’s estimated that in 2012, the maritime industries associated with shipbuilding and repair, construction of ports and marinas, along with the associated leisure and tourism activities contributed an estimated £2.5 billion to the economy. (In addition, shipping, ports and business services accounted for a massive £8.5 billion.)
Given the huge contribution the industry makes, it’s understandable that the government has taken many opportunities to legislate and protect it. This is the same in countries around the world, where having a coastline equals the opportunity for significant revenue from maritime activities.
In addition to revenue, the maritime industries create jobs, with thousands of workers employed in the technology and industry sectors, leisure and tourism and other ‘backroom’ services. In the UK alone, there are more than 23,000 people actively working at sea*, whether that is as part of an enormous crew on a large vessel or a handful on a private or charter yacht.
For yacht owners, thanks to the glamorous image, there’s always a surplus of people seeking their next charter. This makes it a competitive market, allowing owners to be quite particular when engaging crewmembers. The pool of candidates is broad, with some individuals having years of experience and others with none. Some have extensive training and skills in sailing, whilst others have very little. In recent years, there has also been an increase in graduates who have just left university and those who have left higher level jobs to work in yachting. Such is the call of the sea, (or the perception of what it’s like to work on a luxury yacht).
Historically, across the wider industry, the fierce competition for jobs, particularly in poorer countries, meant that seafarers were often not treated well. There were also significant variations in professional standards and working conditions at sea. This led to calls for action to protect their welfare.
The International Labour Organisation introduced the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) to protect people who work at sea. It’s important to understand that the convention is an international legal instrument; it does not apply directly to owners or operators, nor individually to the seafarers it seeks to protect.
What the MLC does is to provide a set of minimum standards, which the countries that ratify it are enacting into their own legislation – they then take responsibility for enforcing the articles and protections the convention includes. To date, 80 countries have ratified the MLC, with some notable exceptions, such as the USA, which applies its own legislated standards to homeland ports.
Historically, the country in which a ship was registered could have a big impact on the working conditions aboard it. As more countries introduced legislation, flags of convenience became a useful loophole for those who wished to avoid laws and standards. The MLC sought to eliminate this practice with a “no more favourable treatment” clause, ensuring the vessels flying the flag of countries that have ratified the MLC were not left at a disadvantage. In practice, this strengthens the implementation of State control in ports of ratifying countries.
As a reminder… For any yacht that docks in a port belonging to one of the eighty MLC-ratified countries, any of the following articles can be subject to inspection by an authorised individual. Thanks to the ‘no more favourable treatment’ clause, this includes vessels flying the flag of a country that has not ratified the convention.
- Minimum age of crew members – 16 in general and 18 for hazardous or night duties.
- Seafarers’ employment agreements – all seafarers must have a clear contract, setting out the terms and conditions of their employment.
- Use of any licensed or regulated private recruitment and placement service – the owner/operator must make this available to seafarers at no additional cost to them whilst they are on board.
- Medical certification – all crew must be certified as medically fit to work at sea and to do the job they are employed to carry out.
- Qualifications of seafarers – certification of seafarers, to demonstrate they have been trained and are qualified to do the work they are employed for.
- Hours of work or rest – maximum hours of work/minimum hours of rest must be regulated.
- Manning levels for the ship – to make sure there are enough crewmembers to safely carry out operations.
- Accommodation – including the size available, area and headroom, plus the facilities available for crewmembers to use whilst on board.
- On-board recreational facilities – not applicable for yachts built prior to the MLC coming into force.
- Food and catering – food and drink that is of good quality and ensures the proper nutritional, religious and cultural requirements of all crewmembers.
- Health and safety and accident prevention – each vessel must provide a safe environment for crew to live and work.
- On-board medical care – availability of adequate care when required.
- On-board complaints procedure – proper process for handling any seafarer complaints whilst on board.
- Payment of wages – monthly statement of wages and payment not less than every month.
- The right to join a union and have collective representation.
These articles ensure that anyone working as a member of a yacht crew is protected by a set of minimum standards for their employment. They also have legal redress, when things go wrong, which sometimes they inevitably do. Ensuring that they are aware of the MLC’s standards for crew is not just about following the letter of the law, it’s also about being a responsible employer. Why should employment protection and welfare be compromised because someone works at sea, rather than on dry land?
*Dept for Transport Seafarer Statistics 2015.