Maritime Labour Convention: new amendments to the code regarding seafarers’ employment agreements

In January 2021 new amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) are expected to come into force.  The amendments are pending approval by the 107th annual meeting of the International Labour Conference (ILC) in June 2018 and relate to continuation of seafarers’ employment agreement (SEA) in cases of piracy or armed robbery against ships.  This is the third set of amendments, since the Convention entered into force on 20 August 2013.

By way of background, as of 30 April, 86 member countries, that represent more than 90% of the world fleet, had ratified the Convention.  The first set of amendments to the Code of the Convention, adopted in June 2014, entered into force on 18 January 2017 (IMCA RN 02/16).  The second set of amendments are expected to enter into force on 8 January 2019 and intend to eliminate shipboard harassment and bullying by ensuring that these issues are covered by the health and safety policies and measures required by the MLC Code.  The 2014 amendments also allow an extension of the maritime labour certificate in cases where the renewal inspection has been successfully completed, but a new certificate cannot immediately be issued to that ship.  The extension shall not exceed the period of five months.

The third review of the MLC in 2018 is considered to be a notable success for the Shipowners’ Group, led by the International Chamber of Shipping, since the agreed amendments are pragmatic without introducing new unnecessary certificate and insurance requirements.

What are the new requirements?

According to the 2018 MLC amendments, as agreed by the Special Tripartite Committee (STC) on 27 April 2018, a SEA shall continue to have effect while a seafarer is held captive on or off the ship as a result of acts of piracy or armed robbery against ships.  The SEA will be deemed to have effect regardless of whether the expiration date of the contract has passed or either party has given notice to suspend or terminate it.

While it was acknowledged that the overwhelming majority of shipowners do provide for the families of captured seafarers, the STC decided that the amendments will clarify the grey areas over the expiry of fixed-term contracts and the continued payment of wages during the entire period of unlawful captivity.  To this end, the purpose of the amendments is to codify the protection of seafarers’ wages and other entitlements due from the shipowner to the seafarer under their employment agreement, the relevant collective bargaining agreement or the national law of the flag State during a period when the seafarer is held captive and to ensure that responsibility for such is taken by the appropriate party.

When will the requirements enter into force?

The 2018 MLC amendments are expected to enter into force in January 2021, subject to their approval by the International Labour Conference in June 2018.

What do I need to do?

Where a seafarer is held captive as a result of acts of piracy or armed robbery, wages and entitlements, including the remittance of any allotments, shall continue to be paid during the entire period of captivity and until the seafarer is released and duly repatriated.  If the seafarer dies while in captivity, wages and entitlements should be paid until the date of death as determined in accordance with applicable national laws.  The entitlement to repatriation shall not lapse if the seafarer concerned does not claim it within a reasonable period of time due to being captive.