Saluting five years of the MLC: a tough, enforceable Seafarers Bill of Rights

Today, we celebrate the anniversary of something rare for maritime workers: a useful, hard-won, enforceable  international agreement on employment standards, hammered into place by labour, industry and government — and  that five years later still has the strong support of all parties.

The Maritime Labour Convention sets out standards for seafarers’ employment conditions (training,  payment, hours of rest, leave, repatriation and manning), for accommodation, recreation facilities, food, health and medical care — and details compliance and enforcement of those standards. In a word, it is a code of respect for the seafarers who labour in floating workplaces, away from home and family, marginalized and isolated, doing the critical work of moving the world’s goods.

The ITF in Canada offers special thanks today to the many labour officials who helped create the MLC in 2013, to the Canadian workers who offer solidarity to the crews it seeks to support, and to the many Transport Canada workers across the country who have embraced with dedication and dignity the work of doing the right thing by seafarers in need of workplace assistance. Canada should be rightly proud of signing on to the convention, and of its work in enforcing it.

Across our country, ITF inspectors rely increasingly on the MLC to resolve crew grievances — including the ongoing disgrace of unpaid wages stolen from crew who have completed their work. Inspectors from Transport Canada and the ITF inspectors have hit their mutual stride and are working well together in an atmosphere of genuine respect and trust.

Right now, for example, we are working on a joint protocol to ensure that each party meets their responsibility to abused and mistreated crew. It’s the kind of work that sounds formal — but it makes all the difference in the daily working life of seafarers.

In the past month alone, the ITF in Vancouver reported incidents of unpaid wages on two container vessels. Each of them were detained by Transport Canada until the crew were paid and other deficiencies sorted out. The settlement agreement in one case resulted in more than $325,000 US being returned to crew on six other vessels in the owner’s fleet. That means everything to seafarers and their families at home.

So the MLC is an agreement we celebrate proudly today. And we continue to carry its lesson up gangways every day. The MLC was a born of the understanding by labour, governments and the maritime industry that allowing the bottom-feeding shipowners of the world to exploit workers was in none of their interests. No one wins when workers are disrespected.

You can read our earlier post about the MLC and some of the troubling, inspiring stories of the cases where it’s played a part:

 

 

 

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