Will ILO MLC Deliver as Promised?

ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), the so called “ILO Super Convention” is expected to enter into force on August the 20th as the 4th pillar of Maritime Regulatory Compliance along with SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW. As the clock is ticking towards the deadline let’s see if the MLC will deliver the promised land by examining some key issues involved.

2013.06.06 - Will ILO MLC Deliver as Promised

Myths about MLC

MLC Will NOT necessarily provide for Seafarer rights as long as every “Shipowner” may select a flag that does not ratify MLC. Since MLC certificate is NOT a trading certificate, there is nothing that can change that. Many industy insiders speculate that MLC will certainly improve the situation onboard. This may be the case for the owner/manager of ICEBERG 1 (the vessel abandoned for 3 years to Somali Pirates) and the like; but for first class operators (especially in the Cruise, Tanker, LNG, Container industry) there are minor issues to be addressed !

If someone sticks to the regulatory nature of MLC, he has to also ask himself: Has SOLAS or MARPOL or STCW introduction improved the shipping industry? The answer is definitely NOT! All these regulations exist for many years; we are currently running 100 years with SOLAS, however accidents do happen and vessels are still being detained. The remarkable difference through all these years is the IMPLEMENTATION MONITORING of these regulations, mainly by PSC, Majors, Vetting Inspectors and Incident/Accident Investigators, This is why we have seen a major improvement shift over the last 20 years. It is common ground that the majority of the ships involved in an accident/detention or other SMS Failure, are flying a “white” Flag and are certified by an IACS member. Shipping still remains a SOLAS based industry as the majority of PSC deficiencies, up to 70%, are related to SOLAS. There is no indication that this industry will change its course due to the introduction of a new rule, as there are no key drivers for implementation!

MLC is NOT about providing for Seafarers; is about finding an acceptable compromise!

Despite common belief, MLC key objectives will not be achieved with the convention itself. MLC – by default- will NOT provide for better working and living conditions onboard, nor assist towards attracting neither retaining qualified seafarers onboard, mainly because it does not properly addresses human motivation. In case someone wishes to address the key motivation factors, taking for example the offshore industry, he should introduce six (6) key aspects within the MLC:

  1. MIN Pay. Easier said than done as there are different pay levels for different nationalities which it may make sense for lower ranks but it does NOT make sense for senior crew!
  2. MAX contract duration (e.g. 12 months) that would regulate the market
  3. Guaranteed MAX period of onboard staying and a MIN period of ashore staying (e.g. 9 months contract spending MAX 6 months onboard and MIN 3 months ashore) to account for the fatigue factor
  4. MIN Safe manning that would make sense, in relation to ship type, size and trade. In these days every flag has a different approach !
  5. Responsibilities for BOTH sides (including financial responsibility and possible penalties). Now MLC addresses only the rights of the seafarers, not their responsibilities. As a consequence, there is no clear indication of what constitutes default of the seafarer.
  6. A clear Legal Jurisdiction to sort out any disputes.
  7. It is obvious that MLC is not addressing any of the above key factors that would ensure a common playing field in the market to attract talented crew. Instead, as we consistently monitor, shipping industry is shifting to the east for less talented/costly crew as globalization rules in this cost sensitive industry.

Forecasting MLC implementation

As the industry is currently in a recession and speculations are that it will be in the long run, MLC implementation will NOT change the “status quo” for sure. There was no regulation in the past that changed the existing conditions (at the time of introduction) despite the inspiration of the regulators (unlimited examples exist, starting from ISM and ISPS to SOLAS and MARPOL requirements). The industry will most probably find a new modus operandi within the years 2014/2015 till we face a case where the human element will play a vital role, an accident for example which is long overdue!

The article is written by Apostolos Belokas and has been initially published in SAFETY4SEA. Apostolos Belokas is a Maritime QHSE expert with 20 year background in shipping acting as a Technical, Marine, Safety & Training Superintendent, Consultant, Trainer and Project Manager. Apostolos has co-founded SQE Marine Group back in 1998, while he is the founder and Managing editor of Safety4Sea.com from 2010 onwards where he frequently blogs. SAFETY4SEA is a pro bono concept to raise Maritime QHSE Awareness.

The article is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

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