Considering MLC Challenges from the perspective of a Crew Manager, I will share with you what I know best: the Philippine Experience from my own experience working in a company that has been in the business of supplying maritime manpower for over forty years. The Philippines, as we all know, is a leading provider of Seafarers to the world fleet with over 350,000 seafarers around the globe.

Today, the Philippine Government provides a process requiring all recruitment contracts for seafarers working overseas to go through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). There are stiff penalties for violators in Philippine law for 'illegal recruitment', which is placed in the same category as illegal human traffic in international practice.

Despite that prior to MLC ratification the Philippines had in fact ratified only five of the 38 conventions which now comprise the MLC, the ILO Conference copied the recruitment and placement standards of the Philippines in Regulation 1.4 of the Code.

The Domestic Maritime Labor Force, the Tri-Partite Process and Challenges

The Philippines itself encountered problems in its implementation. In the run up towards its ratification of the convention, opposition was met so that the Philippines almost did not make it to the much coveted 30th slot which brought the convention into force.

Where did the opposition come from? It came from the Domestic Maritime Sector. The MLC does not distinguish labor, regardless of where the seafarer works and type of vessel. Practices in the domestic trade are quite different from the international sector. To address concerns, a tripartite council discussed extensively the matter of exemptions and equivalencies.

The Tripartite Process, another novelty in the Philippines, requires consultation among the government, the ship owners' organization and the seafarers' organization regarding any matter that concerns any derogation, exemption, or flexible application of any provision of the MLC. The Management sector has considered the tripartite consultation process conducive to consensus building.

The Medical Certificate

During the preparations for the entry into force of the MLC, one matter which was subject to extensive discussions was the seafarer's Medical Certificate. Regulation A1.2, 6(b) was considered problematic by all three partners.

Many seafarers upon reaching the age of 45 or more usually suffer from degenerative diseases and their medical condition is usually related to lifestyle on board or genetic illnesses. But such a statement appearing on a medical certificate could lead to the rejection of many middle-aged seafarers who have the desired experience, knowledge and skills to competently operate the ship, especially when shortage of competent officers still exists. The consequence of accepting such seafarers, or worse, the non-disclosure of such a medical condition, could result in the denial of medical claims and possibly increased incidents of adversarial litigation in convenient forums in order to pursue a medical claim.

The tripartite partners agreed to have an attachment of a disclosure form to the medical certificate which can be requested from the medical clinic. While the MLC allows the cost to obtain a national statutory medical certificate to be borne by the seafarer, many Shipowners and Managers require medical certificates from a specified clinic. Under Philippine laws, in such case, the employer bears the cost and thus the Philippine authorities allow a waiver of the non-disclosure right and give the employer the right of access to information as part of the pre-employment requirement.

Cadets

Another subject in the MLC is the matter of cadets. The Philippines Maritime Education System requires one year shipboard training to complete the degree program. The international merchant fleet of the Philippines is small. Its domestic fleet, on the other hand, is seldom considered for shipboard training. If a Crew Manager wants to build its pipeline of competent crew, it must rely on its International Fleet. The Philippines, after extensive discussions in the tripartite process agreed to have a Cadet Training Agreement in place which sets forth the responsibilities of the ship owner and the cadet. The cadet is not engaged to work but train on board. This arrangement will allow the cadets to complete their academic degree requirements to ensure the continued growth of the manpower supply.

Crew Competence and Training

Perhaps one of the most pressing challenges faced by Crew Managers is the area of Crew Competence and Training. The Philippines is a much desired source of seafarers, representing close to 30% of the world's maritime manpower. But the competitiveness of Filipino seafarers may be with the uncertain system of education, training, assessment and certification systems adopted by the Maritime Schools and Training Centers.

The Philippines will be audited for the 4th time by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) on Oct. 7 -24. What happens if the Philippine fails in the audit? Will the certificates issued by the Philippines not be recognized by the EU members? This is a major concern for the Global Shipping Industry. We are however positive that the Philippines can make it!

Conclusion

The implementation of the MLC is at its infancy stage. With the industry trying to slowly work its way up from the crisis levels of 2008 and 2009 and many shipowners still struggling, the prospect of having to spend on significant costs to comply with MLC, is a major challenge. I wouldn't be surprised if there are still vessels out there that are not compliant, not because they don't want to but rather unable find ways and time.

As all other maritime conventions, MLC is not static but a work in progress influenced by the interests of each State, the practices of players in the industry, and the improvement of technology. New challenges will come and new inputs will be provided in the future. In the meantime we should be committed to operate within the spirit of the convention.

One thing we do need to remember when dealing with maritime labor is that we must change to meet the challenges of a global workforce. While ship owners may view their seafarers only as an item of cost, we must, however, all realize that seafarers are people with dreams to be fulfilled, and aspirations to be met, and a fervent wish in their hearts to succeed in their chosen profession.

 

Above article is an edited version of Marlon Rono's presentation during 2013 SAFETY4SEA Athens Forum

You may view relevant video by clicking here