WMU Report Presented to Fourth Meeting of the Special Tripartite Committee of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006)

As part of the Fourth Meeting of the Special Tripartite Committee of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006) hosted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) from 19-23 April, Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University (WMU), presented the WMU research report  “A Culture of Adjustment”. 

Released in November 2020, the Report prepared by WMU, an academic post-graduate institution established by the IMO, highlights systemic failures in the implementation of the regulatory regime for seafarers’ hours of work and rest. The data collected took into account multiple sources from three categories of participants - Seafarers, Maritime Stakeholders and Port State Control (PSC) Officers. The research results highlight a Culture of Adjustment prompting seafarers to underreport working hours to protect their ships and their jobs. 

As former director of the ILO Standards Department, Dr Doumbia-Henry was responsible for developing the MLC, 2006 and remained responsible for it until she joined WMU in 2015. She posed the question as to why fatigue at sea is continuously pointed out in research, despite the entry into force of IMO and ILO instruments. “It seems that all segments of the shipping community are aware of the situation,” she said, calling for more attention to the issue of fatigue and its potential consequences.

Dr. Doumbia-Henry highlighted the results of the WMU research, that include:

  • deficiencies in recording rest and work due to job instability and occasionally financial incentives;
  • fear of retaliation in reporting rest/work hours violations; and
  • often overlooking a strict implementation of rest/work hours regulations due to the high number of tasks to be performed by enforcement officers during the time
    available for inspections in ports.

 She also highlighted four important issues that emerged:

  • the overwhelming majority of responses refer to the origin of the issue as inadequate manning;
  • participants in the survey stressed the need to align the regulatory framework with evidence-based research on fatigue;
  • evidence of chronic mistrust and conflicting agendas between shore and sea affect feedback mechanisms and corrective actions;
  • surveyors and inspectors verification of records is limited due to the many other tasks to be performed during inspection. 

In conclusion she said, “I am concerned that there is a normalization of deviance which seems tacitly accepted by the maritime community. The incapacity to address violations of rest/work hours and complacency in record-keeping reveal a systemic failure which should be addressed.”

Dr Doumbia-Henry expressed her satisfaction that these issues were being discussed and addressed by the Special Tripartite Committee. She hoped that both the ILO and the IMO would work together with Governments, Shipowners and Seafarer organizations and the industry to address this important issue.  

The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006) is widely known as the “seafarers’ bill of rights.” It establishes minimum working and living standards for all seafarers working on ships flying the flags of ratifying countries. It is unique in that it aims both to achieve decent work for seafarers and to secure economic interests through fair competition for quality ship owners. The Convention is comprehensive and sets out, in one place, seafarers' rights to decent working conditions. It covers almost every aspect of their work and life on board. The Special Tripartite Committee is established under Article XIII of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 and the Governing Body of the International Labour Office keeps the working of the Convention under continuous review through a committee established by it with special competence in the area of maritime labour standards.

Financial support for the independent research by WMU was provided by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust. To access the full report for A Culture of Adjustment, click here.

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