A new United Nations maritime labour convention - hailed as a "bill of rights" for the more than 1.5 million people employed by the shipping industry - comes into force Tuesday, aiming to ensure decent work conditions for seafarers while helping provide a level playing field for shipowners.
The UN International Labour Organization's (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) ratified by 48 countries, sets minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship and contains provisions on conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health and medical care and welfare and social security protection.
"I call on all countries with a maritime interest to ratify - if they have not yet done so - and urge Governments and shipowners to work effectively to implement this Convention," ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a statement.
"This Convention is a milestone in maritime history," added Ryder, noting that, as the end result of tripartite dialogue and international cooperation, "it enables decent working and living conditions for seafarers to be advanced, along with fair competition for shipowners in this, the most globalized of industries."
The MLC 2006 needed ratification by 30 ILO member States, representing more than 33 per cent of the world's gross shipping tonnage, to enter into force.
The convention has the full support of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), which represents seafarers, and the International Shipowners Federation (ISF). Both, according to the ILO, played a key role during the five years of its development and in the adoption of the Convention at a special ILO International Labour Conference in 2006.
The convention is also supported by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which oversees the global shipping sector and responsible for the prevention of marine pollution by ships.
IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu called the MLC 2006 a "truly important landmark" and noted that its entry into force "marks significant progress in the recognition of seafarers' roles and the need to safeguard their well-being and their working conditions".
The MLC is considered the 'fourth pillar' of the most important maritime regulations covering international shipping, along with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS); the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL); and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).
These three IMO treaties were first adopted in the 1970s and have each been ratified by more than 150 countries, representing more than 99 per cent of world merchant shipping.