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Maritime Labour Convention 2006: First look

Given its impact and the time taken to design and build new yachts, owners and designers need to start understanding the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), despite uncertainty as to its implementation. What’s certain is that designers’ freedom is about to be curtailed.

What is the Maritime Labour Convention?

The MLC 2006 is a detailed document which, after some years of diplomatic discussion, has been placed on the table for countries to sign up. It’s aimed at traditional registration countries (flag states) and port states, as well as nations without a coastline, from which seafarers may nevertheless hail.

It covers the rights and obligations associated with crew welfare – a sort of seafarers’ Bill of Rights. It is the fourth in a series of conventions covering those areas of shipping which, in fairness, needed regulation – the others being SOLAS (safety), STCW (crew training) and MARPOL (pollution).

It has been developed by the International Labour Organisation, who, while speaking to the owners of trading ships, seemingly hadn’t even thought to consider yacht owners. They spoke to seafarers, but only through the International Transport Workers Federation, which has a tenuous link with active yacht crewmembers.

Discussions were initiated back in 2001, but with its regulatory radar sometimes on the blink, the superyacht industry must now live with the consequences until changes to the MLC can be negotiated.

The MLC consists of Articles, Regulations, the Code and Appendices. The Articles and Regulations form the meat of the convention, with the Code providing technical details and standards, both mandatory and suggested. Resolutions give guidance on interpretation. Convention states must co-operate in order to facilitate effective implementation and enforcement, but governments do have a degree of discretion in how to do this.

The MLC is not a statement of law, but a set of rules that ratifying countries agree to incorporate into their own laws. It contains suggestions on detailed implementation, but nations will have limited and defined wriggle room.

We don’t yet know how those details will affect yachts, but given the potentially dramatic effect on yacht design, the time to be aware of the MLC is now.

When does it come into force?

The MLC will come into force one year after 30 countries, with a minimum of 33 per cent of the world’s shipping tonnage registered, have ratified it. The European Union (EU) plans to ratify on behalf of EU member states on or before 31 December 2010, so it will become law in all signatory countries on or before December 2011. Some states may implement parts of the MLC earlier.

What is the purpose of the MLC?

The MLC sets out minimum requirements for accommodation, recreational facilities, catering, working hours, repatriation and healthcare, welfare and social security provisions for ships’ crew.

The aim is to provide crewmembers with the same rights as those employed ashore. It won’t be enough simply to pay crewmembers more in lieu of any shortcomings. Some of these areas are already covered by national laws, but not on a uniform basis.

Given that such matters can be governed by the laws of the flag state, port state and those of the crewmember’s home state, this has created confusion that a few unscrupulous owners and managers have exploited.

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