Protecting seafarers and fishers’ rights and working conditions now, while preparing them for a digitalized and decarbonized future, were key themes explored during the first International Maritime Organization (IMO)/International Labour Organization (ILO) Conference on Work at Sea, which took place at IMO Headquarters in London on 13 November.
he professionals who work at sea, the seafarers, fishers and other maritime personnel, are the lifeblood of shipping and their wellbeing is paramount. I have often referred to seafarers as the unsung heroes of the global economy.ccording to IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, t
They are the ones who ensure that goods and food are shipped and delivered safely and effectively around the globe. They are on the frontline, a responsibility that has been particularly highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without them, shipping simply stops.
If we do not ensure seafarers’ rights and well-being, we will not be able to retain the existing seafarers in the profession and will certainly not be in a position to attract any new ones, which would have huge and long-lasting consequences.
..Mr. Lim said.
The first IMO/ILO Conference on Work at Sea forms part of coordinated work by the two United Nations agencies to acknowledge the pivotal role of seafaring as imperative for future global development and to ensure robust protections for those who work at sea. It follows a high-level meeting in May between IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim and the ILO Director-General, Gilbert F Houngbo.
If we want to retain and attract seafarers, including young persons and women, we need to deliver on a new social contract that puts seafarers at the heart of the shipping industry.
..Mr. Houngbo said.
Fishers continue to face many decent work deficits, including for some, denial of their fundamental principles and rights at work. ILO and IMO, together with the Food and Agriculture Organization, have expanded our cooperation in this sector. However, progress remains slow.
..Mr. Houngbo said.
As informed, the Conference provided a forum for the sharing of views and experience on ensuring the rights of seafarers and fishers; identifying gaps in the current regulatory framework; and explored how Governments, industry, IGOs and NGOs can collaborate to improve the relevant international maritime legal framework.
Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) represented the industry and the workforce, respectively, during the opening session.
Taking part throughout the day were representatives from shipping companies, academia, and governments of flag and port States along with those States which traditionally supply much of the maritime workforce.
Key themes were responsible management, the enforcement of existing regulations, further ratification of fishing related treaties and the need to prepare seafarers and fishers for the digitalized and decarbonized future. The need for collaboration and cooperation between all maritime partners was emphasized throughout.
International cooperation is crucial, requiring collaboration between governments, international organizations, and the shipping industry. Challenges such as crew change, fatigue, mental health support, and fair wages require joint efforts for effective solutions. The close cooperation between IMO and ILO is more critical than ever, enabling the pooling of resources and expertise to address challenges in recruiting and retaining personnel at sea.
..said IMO Secretary-General Lim.
Ensuring rights at sea
A session on best practices for responsible ship management concluded that to make seafaring an attractive career option requires responsible ship management to deliver improved working and living conditions. Lessons have been learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular the paramount need to designate seafarers as key workers.
Speakers highlighted that fishers in particular need better protection, given that fishing is more hazardous than shipping, with thousands of fatalities reported annually. Fishing is impacted by forced labour, illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and vague national regulations.
The maritime regulatory framework
The continued lack of a binding international instrument in force regarding maritime safety of fishing vessels was highlighted in a session on ILO and IMO Conventions for the fishing sector. IMO is currently promoting accession to the Cape Town Agreement, which will provide global safety standards for fishing vessels. It is expected that the conditions for entry into force will be met in the near future.
Many speakers highlighted the recent huge spike of reported abandonment cases to the joint IMO/ILO database which can be accessed here. However, there is a ‘lack of MLC, 2006 compulsory insurance implementation’ present in half of the reported cases. Therefore, further enforcement by port State control officers of the abandonment insurance requirement is a priority, including to enforce the due diligence obligation to maintain compulsory insurance by the relevant Member States and to make it part of training exercises for port State control officers.