Concerns are being raised in some circles that the industry is not ready to deal with the impact of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, often described as the ‘fourth pillar of the maritime regulatory regime’. The MLC 2006 will come into force, as is usual for such legislation, one year after ratification by ILO member states representing a third of global gross tonnage. As things stand now, Liberia, Panama, the Bahamas and Norway are amongst those that have ratified the convention. Experts say that they expect final ratification later this year, and implementation by the end of 2011 or early 2012.
Meanwhile, some are questioning the wider industry’s understanding or preparedness to handle MLC2006; a few are even drawing parallels with the somewhat confused implementation of the International Safety Management Code a decade or so ago. This does not bode well for the future, because the MLC has been rated as important as SOLAS, STCW and MARPOL, and a convention that is supposed to make a substantial difference to the working conditions of mariners at sea.
BIMCO estimates are that MLC 2006 will apply to about 70,000 vessels and 1.2 million seafarers across nationalities, ranks and flags. The convention sets minimum standards for the health, safety and welfare of seafarers; it also covers, in considerable detail, mariner issues related to food, health, medical care, welfare, protection, pay, working conditions, accommodation and fatigue. Compliance with such a broad convention will obviously not be easily possible last minute, say industry sources, pointing out that the five main areas that the MLC covers are panoptic and extensive in scope. These are: minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship; conditions of employment; accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering; health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection; compliance and enforcement.
Analysts say that shipowners and managers are not allocating enough resources towards the MLC2006 which may be less than two years away. In addition, certification and inspection administrations will have to come up to speed quickly and put mechanisms in place that will be robust and effective. The International Maritime Employer’s Committee has made a statement recently saying that Port and Flag states were unprepared for MLC 2006. Their secretary-general Giles Heimann said that many stakeholders continue to underestimate the impact of the regulations and have failed to budget time and resources for the preparation required. He said that a “well respected open register” had admitted it is not prepared for MLC implementation because it had not yet managed to get a “single word down on paper as far as national legislation is concerned”.
In other seafarer HRD related issues, InterManager has warned the industry that criminalisation of seafarers and piracy are the two major reasons for the fall in mariner retention and recruitment. “Legislative measures following an accident or incident have made the seafarer increasingly susceptible to criminalisation, and a rising incidence of piracy has led to correspondingly high personal risks," Brian Martis said at a conference recently. "A one-sided view of public interest coupled with political expediency has severely curtailed the human rights of the seafarer. The current shortage of skilled and qualified seafarers, already a significant crisis in the maritime industry, is further exacerbated. I know of several officers who have indicated they will discourage their children from taking up a career at sea."