Seafarers’ groups have won the right to mandatory social connectivity for crews, including internet access, in updates to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC). However, ITF expresses its disappointment that shipowners and governments may seek to charge for it.
ore specifically, the latest Special Tripartite Committee (STC) meeting ended in Geneva on 13 May, with agreement on a number of changes including a commitment to better social connectivity for seafarers.
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Commenting on the decision, Mark Dickinson, vice chair of the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s (ITF) Seafarers’ Section, said that “being able to keep in touch with family and friends isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a basic human right. That’s why we fought so hard for seafarers to be given internet access and to have a mandatory provision in the MLC.”
However, ITF noted that despite the fact that ships already have the technology to provide internet access, “shipowners dug their heels in over the change.” As the organization said, ITF claims that shipowners insisted that they should be able to limit access and be able to charge seafarers for internet connectivity.
Repatriation rights lags behind
On the other hand, the meeting failed to reach agreement on changes to the MLC’s terms on repatriation under the MLC that were being demanded by the Seafarers Group.
Namely, the Seafarers Group demanded that the breadth of shipowners’ responsibility to repatriate seafarers at the end of their contracts be extended to the point at which seafarers land at their home location.
As we have observed over the course of the pandemic, many seafarers have been detrimentally impacted by quarantine measures introduced in many countries, which has exacerbated the risk of disruptions and costs to seafarers to get to their actual residence
said ITF, with Mr. Dickinson adding that “shipowners outright rejected the proposal despite attempts at providing a compromise.”
According to ITF General Secretary, the refusal of shipowners to negotiate on this issue is “heart-breaking given what seafarers who were caught up in Covid restrictions endured.”
It’s a shame that after all the collaboration during the Covid period, when we worked together across the industry to defend seafarers’ rights, that shipowners have failed to engage in dialogue at all
Moreover, a group of EU governments sought an amendment to ensure a clearer commitment to the de facto maximum period of service of 11 months that seafarers can serve at sea before shipowners are obliged to get them home. Shipowners, and some governments, insisted on flexibility and requiring seafarers 12 months sea time to qualify, especially for trainees. The Seafarers Group refused to concede, citing fatigue and safety concerns.
The STC also agreed on a number of significant changes to the MLC, including:
- Personal protective equipment must be made available in sizes that suit seafarers onboard, including for women.
- Improved access to free drinking water, quality provisions and balanced diets were agreed as part of food and catering rules.
- Clarification on responsibilities for governments to provide information to seafarers on mandatory systems of protection that must be put in place by recruitment and placement agencies.
Additionally, it adopted several resolutions that will guide the future work of the Committee. These included further work on the eradication of sexual harassment at sea, the sustainability of the financial security provisions provided by P&I Clubs and insurers, and the ability of seafarers to enforce seafarers’ employment agreements against shipowners.
For that matter, during the 105th session of the IMO Maritime Safety Committee, members agreed to the establishment of an IMO/ILO joint group to consider bullying and harassment in the maritime sector, including sexual assault and sexual harassment
In his closing remarks, Mr. Dickinson shared his disappointment “that since the MLC entered into force, it appears that shipowners focus was on agreeing technical changes, rather than resolutions that support the continuous improvement of seafarers’ conditions.”
Through Covid, ITF and ICS worked so well together, and with other shipping partners such as IMEC, so it would be an incredible shame if we didn’t continue to work together in that spirit. Decent work for seafarers must be at the heart of this
ITF General Secretary Cotton concluded.
What is more, an ILO report published in advance of the negotiations highlighted governments’ failure to comply with critical provisions of the MLC during the pandemic, resulting in preventable deaths, and an enormous toll on seafarers’ mental health. At the height of the pandemic, 400,000 seafarers were affected by the crew change crisis, unable to return to shore or access ships due to draconian travel restrictions.