Shipping industry strengthens Maritime Labor Convention to reflect lessons from pandemic

The UN International Labor Organization (ILO) tripartite of shipowners, governments, and transport workers unions have agreed to new measures to strengthen the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC), based on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the ILO meeting that took place between May 2 – 13 in Geneva, Switzerland, delegates agreed to implement amendments on: bolstering legal requirements for seafarers to be able to access medical care ashore; strengthening health and safety PPE policies on board ships to protect against accidents; and to further facilitate seafarers’ communication with their loved ones ashore.

A new 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.

The International Chamber of Shipping is the longstanding ILO representative of the global maritime employers’ group.

The negotiations occurred against the backdrop of the current seafarer crisis in Ukrainian ports and the Sea of Azov. Governments reiterated their support for the ILO resolution calling for the swift and safe disembarkation and repatriation of the 500 remaining trapped seafarers. 

A Resolution of ILO Governing Body called for the prompt delivery of critical supplies, such as food, water, and medicines to these key global workers caught in the conflict zone.

In advance of the meeting, ICS also published a report outlining the impact of COVID-19 on shipping, seafarers and maritime labor markets, and recommendations to mitigate future crises.

Natalie Shaw, ICS Director of Employment Affairs, added: “Though this is a great starting point, further reforms at a global level are necessary to ensure that the shipping community is better prepared and coordinated to address future shocks, including and beyond a pandemic.

“We are pleased with the success of these negotiations, but now we must map out what more can be done.

“ICS will work to ensure that the improved cooperation between states, ship owners, and workers remains, for the betterment of the whole maritime sector and the movement of global trade.”

Photo credit: iStock/ pigphoto

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