WMU Contributes to ITC Global Forum on the MLC, 2006
The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) second annual Global Forum on the “Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006): Current and Future Developments” took place 29-30 September. The digital forum provides a unique opportunity for all stakeholders to analyse and discuss the recent developments and the future perspectives in the context of the MLC, 2006 and the impact of COVID-19 on the maritime sector.
More than 80 per cent of global trade is moved by maritime transport and the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the functioning of shipping and affected the work of nearly 2 million seafarers worldwide. In her Plenary Session remarks, Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University (WMU), addressed the topic of Moving forward towards the full implementation and enforcement of the MLC, 2006 and its Amendments - What else is needed?
Dr Doumbia-Henry’s remarks on 30 September coincided with World Maritime Day under the theme of “Seafarers: at the core of shipping’s future”. She took the opportunity to extend gratitude to the world’s seafarers who make shipping possible. “They are normally out of sight and out of mind and few people know the role they play in enabling us to enjoy the goods that we need everyday”, she said.
Covid-19 has severely impacted the estimated 1.7 million seafarers worldwide, which includes the cruise sector. WHO, IMO and ILO have listed “seafarers” as a key group that should be prioritized for vaccination, however, vaccinations are lagging behind despite the call to designate seafarers as “key workers” by international organizations, including the UN General Assembly. Only 24 countries as at 27 September 2021 have implemented seafarer vaccination programs or signaled their intent to do so. Dr Doumbia-Henry noted that while crew changes have improved world-wide over the last months, they have still not yet improved sufficiently. It is therefore important that pressure is maintained on member States to continue to recognize seafarers as “key workers”.
Dr Doumbia-Henry noted the importance for governments to also recognize other marine personnel who play a role in facilitating global trade and to also vaccinate them on a priority basis, including port workers. She said, “Among the challenges seafarers face are stress, exhaustion as well as the potential for severe sickness due to the sluggish vaccination roll-out which then requires crew to remain detained on-board past their contractual period at sea. The prompt facilitation and disembarkation of seafarers for medical care is considered to be a matter of ‘life and death’. Unfortunately, too many seafarers are still struggling to access the vaccinations that they require.”
To date 98 countries representing more than 91 per cent of the world merchant shipping fleet have ratified the MLC while one other country has recently ratified the Convention. Dr Doumbia-Henry highlighted social security as a critical issue for seafarers and that all States on ratification of the MLC must accept at least three branches of social security. She noted there are currently wide differences among countries depending on where ships are registered.
With respect to the future, considering the challenges seafarers have faced and continue to face during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Doumbia-Henry highlighted the importance of more countries ratifying ILO Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention (Revised) 2003, No.185 as a signal of the importance of the instrument for facilitating crew changes and repatriation home. “What we now need is for countries to ramp up ratification of these two important instruments – the MLC and C.185! They go hand in hand and are indispensable for seafarers, for world trade and for the global economy. STCW will also need to be reviewed in light of the pandemic,” she said.
Dr Doumbia-Henry stated that these three key maritime Conventions, MLC 2006, Seafarers’ Identity Documents, Convention (Revised) 2003, No.185 and STCW, are critical for the future of the industry. She concluded saying, “They provide the regulatory framework with respect to training under STCW and protection with respect to working and living conditions on board ship especially during these challenging times for them. We must therefore ensure that all necessary measures are taken to enable them to keep global trade moving. Let us all recognize the role of seafarers in enabling shipping and global trade. We owe them a lot!”