INSIGHT: Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006
General information about MLC is provided in this section of the website.
The text of the Convention together with detailed FAQs issued by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) can be found below.
COVID-19: MLC imposes extensive obligations on flag states, port states and shipowners which are relevant to protection of seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Officers of the Special Tripartite Committee, made up of representatives of States, shipowners and seafarers, have issued this Statement which draws attention to the key role played by seafarers and urges member States to adopt a pragmatic approach in responding to the unprecedented challenges resulting from the current crisis. This includes facilitating the return home of those seafarers who have completed their contracts, and allowing seafarers to leave their home country to join their ships, after appropriate medical screening. The ILO has also published an Information Note on maritime labour issues and coronavirus.
Where and when in force
MLC entered into force on 20 August 2013. Where States ratify after 20 August 2012, the Convention enters into force 12 months from the ratification date.
By the end of 2020, MLC had been ratified by nearly 100 States representing 91% of world tonnage.
States which have ratified MLC are listed in the table here.
States which have accepted the 2014 Amendments are identified in a list maintained by the ILO which can be found here.
The adoption of MLC in 2006 was the product of five year’s work carried out as a tripartite process involving governments, seafarers’ trade unions and shipowners’ organisations. The International Shipping Federation (ISF) was responsible for negotiating the text of the Convention on behalf of maritime employers. ISF liaised closely with and its sister organisation, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and national shipowners’ associations. The Convention has received wide support from governments, with the European Union also encouraging member states to ratify. There has been a steady flow of ratifications with 90 States having ratified by the end of 2019.
To a large extent MLC is a consolidation of existing legislation, including no less than 36 Conventions, some of them dating back to 1920, with the aim of setting global standards for a global industry. The ICS commented as follows in its 2012 Annual Review:
“The vast majority of companies should not have any difficulty complying with the substance of the Convention, since this is largely derived from existing ILO maritime standards and accepted good employment practice. However, the enforcement mechanism is new, and it will be important to avoid teething problems as some of the more detailed requirements are applied and interpreted.”
The ISF published the second edition of its Guide to MLC in December 2012.
Application and enforcement
ICS-SIF have issued a brochure "Guidance to Ship Operators on Port State Control as from 20 August 2013". This brochure can be found under "Related Documents" on the right hand side of this page.
The Convention will apply to all commercial vessels which fly the flag of a State party and are engaged in international voyages.
Ships flying the flag of a State party are required to carry a Maritime Labour Certificate and Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance which should be in conformity with the model forms in Appendix A5-II. These documents are to be accepted by other States as prima facie evidence of compliance with the Convention. Shipowners and governments will have to put in place administrative procedures to ensure that these documentary requirements are met. Some tasks can be delegated by States to Recognised Organisations (ROs) such as Classifications Societies.
Ships over 500 gt must keep on board and display a Maritime Labour Certificate which will be issued by the Flag State after an inspection by the Flag State or an RO which confirms compliance with minimum standards.
A Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance (DMLC) is appended to the Certificate. Part I is prepared by the Flag State while Part II is completed and maintained by the Shipowner in orderto ensure continuing compliance.
States have an obligation to include MLC compliance as part of their port state control (including ships that fly the flag of a state which is not party to MLC) and the ILO has issued Guidelines for port State control officers carrying out inspections have been issued. The Maritime Labour Certificate and DMLC will provide prima facie evidence of compliance but are not conclusive and inspectors will carry out an investigation if there are grounds for suspecting that MLC standards are not met. These Guidelines have not yet been updated to reflect the financial security requirements which came into effect in January 2017.
MLC is intended to set consistent standards for all seafarers regardless of the flag of the vessels on which they serve. The Convention adopts the underlying principle of "no more favourable treatment" for ships of non-ratifying countries so that ships of all countries (irrespective of ratification) will be subject to inspection. While ships registered in States which are not party to MLC will be subject to a detailed inspection when calling at ports in States where MLC is in force. For this reason the US, although not a party to the Convention, has initiated a voluntary compliance programme, details of which can be found here, in the hope that this will reduce the risk of US flag ships encountering difficulties in port state control. The USCG has also issued Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 02-13 containing detailed guidance for the operators of US flag vessels.
The Convention covers a wide range of employment issues and is organised into the following sections:
- Title 1. Minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship
- Title 2. Conditions of employment
- Title 3. Accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering
- Title 4. Health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection
- Title 5. Compliance and enforcement
The primary purpose of the Convention is to regulate shipowners’ responsibilities towards seafarers serving on their vessels. The relevance of P&I cover is limited to those sections relating to injury, illness and, to an extent, repatriation.
MLC contains the following definition of shipowner - "the owner of the ship or another organisation or person, such as the manager, agent or bareboat charterer, who has assumed the responsibility for the operation of the ship from the owner and who...has agreed to take over the duties and responsibilities imposed on shipowners in accordance with this Convention, regardless of whether any other organisations or persons fulfill certain of the duties or responsibilities on behalf of the shipowner." The "shipowner" for MLC purposes must therefore be either (a) the actual "owner" or (b) someone else who operates the ship and has agreed to take on the responsibilities under MLC.
MLC contains a wide definition of seafarer - "any person who is employed or engaged or works in any capacity on board". ILO FAQs state that the term "covers all workers including cabin and cleaning personnel, bar staff, waiters, entertainers, singers, kitchen staff, casino personnel and aestheticians. This conclusion is applicable irrespective of whether the seafarers concerned have been recruited directly by a shipowner or are employed under a subcontracting arrangement. Nevertheless, there are certain categories of workers, who only board the ship briefly and who normally work on land, for example flag State or port State control inspectors, who clearly could not be considered as working on the ship concerned. In other cases, the situation may not be clear, for example when a performer has been engaged to work on a cruise ship for the whole of the cruise or to carry out ongoing ship maintenance or repair or other duties on a voyage. .... On the assumption that cadets are performing work on the ship, although under training, they would be considered as "seafarers"... " [ILO FAQs B.1, 2 & 3]
Flag states may adopt different approaches in their domestic legislation. Some states have provided clarification in their domestic legislation or in the form of guidance. For example, the UK Marine Guidance Note 471(N) identifies the following as not protected by MLC: (a) persons whose work is not part of the routine business of the ship and whose principal place of work is ashore such as harbour pilots, inspectors, superintendents; scientists, researchers, divers and specialist offshore technicians; and (b) those on board on an occasional and short-term basis such as guest lecturers and entertainers, repair technicians, surveyors and port workers as well as privately contracted armed security personnel. The general view appears to be that cadets are protected by MLC.
Other states may adopt different approaches in some cases. This may be important in relation to personnel working on board vessels but not employed by the owners, a situation which can arise in particular in the offshore sector. BIMCO have published Clauses to be incorporated in their SUPPLYTIME, SHIPMAN and CREWMAN contracts to address this issue. The Clauses and an explanatory Circular can be found on BIMCO's website.
Implementation and Structure
MLC has been described as the "fourth pillar" of the international regulatory regime for quality shipping, complementing the key Conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). However it is structured in a way which is quite different from the IMO Liability Conventions.
State parties must implement the MLC into their domestic law. States have a measure of freedom as to how they achieve this provided that the minimum standards in the Convention are met. The main provisions of the Convention are set out in three parts:
The Articles consist of statements of principle and include underlying legal provisions.
The Articles are followed by Titles 1 to 5 which contain the substance of the requirements applicable to the distinct areas covered in each Title and are formulated as follows
Regulations - a broad description of obligations and requirements
The Code - detailed provisions sub-divided into two parts
Part A: Standards
Part B: Guidelines
States must ensure that their domestic legislation is the same as or “substantially equivalent” to the Standards in Part A. There is a lower obligation in respect of the Guidelines in Part B which are not mandatory but must be given due consideration.
MLC provides for amendments to be made to the Regulations (Article XIV) together with a simpler tacit amendment procedure for amendments to the Code (Article XV). The following amendments have been adopted by the ILO General Assembly.
2014 Amendments introduced a significant change by adding to Regulations 2.5 and 4.2 to provide for financial security and entered into force on 18 January 2017 – see below.
2016 Amendments require States to take account of the Guidance on eliminating shipboard harassment and bullying jointly published by the ICS and ITF. The Amendments entered into force in January 2019. The Guidance can be found here.
2018 Amendments were adopted in June 2018 and place an obligation on shipowners to continue to pay wages to seafarers while held captive as a result of acts of piracy or armed robbery. The text of the amendments can be found here. The expected date of entry into force is 26 December 2020.
Financial security before 18 January 2017
MLC 2006 contained financial security requirements which were from a P&I perspective limited to repatriation costs. Club rules were changed to include repatriation costs recoverable when MLC came into force in 2013 and States agreed to accept standard Certificates of Entry issued by P&I Clubs in the International Group:
Financial security after 18 January 2017
On 18 January 2017, the 2014 Amendments to MLC came into force which greatly expanded the financial security requirements. Shipowners who are subject to the new requirements must carry Certificates of financial responsibility on board their vessels in order to comply with Regulation 4.2 Standard 4.2.1 and Regulation 2.5.2 Standard A2.5.2 of MLC as amended. A Certificate of Entry is no longer sufficient to meet the new requirements. More information about the requirements and the process for obtaining Certificates can be found here.
European Union (EU)
MLC also has relevance to EU law. The EU has supported the development of MLC although it is not a party to MLC since it is not a member of the ILO.
The Council Directive 2009/13/EC implements an agreement concluded in 2008 by representatives of management and labour in the maritime transport sector, the European Community Shipowners' Association (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF), on the Maritime Labour Convention. The Agreement amends an agreement reached by ECSA and ETF in 1998. The Directive entered into force on 20 August 2013, the date of entry into force of the MLC. Member States have a further 12 months to bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the Directive or ensure that management and labour have introduced the necessary measures by agreement. Accordingly, all EU Member States (whether they have ratified the Convention or not) will have to conformity with MLC by 20 August 2014, failing which they will be in breach of EU law.
The MLC is a mixed agreement in that parts of it fall within the competence of the EU, parts within the shared competence of the Member States and the EU and a large proportion within the exclusive competence of the Member States. The Transport Council adopted a decision in June 2007 authorising Member States to ratify the MLC for those parts falling within EU competence and urging Member States to ratify by no later than the end of 2010.
Port state control
On 2 July 2013, the European Parliament adopted EU Directive 2009/13 which was also adopted by the Council on 22 July 2013, amending EU Directive 2009/16 on Port State Control. The amendments will ensure that MLC is included as a part of port state control inspections throughout the EU. Non-ratification of MLC by the flag State is a factor which may contribute to a vessel being subject to closer examination.
Flag state enforcement
On 30 December 2013, EU Directive 2013/54 entered into force, setting out requirements for Member States to establish enforcement and monitoring mechanisms (including inspections) for ships flying their Flag. Member States will have to transpose the Directive into national law by 31 March 2015.
Seafarer's Employment Agreement (SEA)
Several Skuld members are revising their crew employment contracts in order to make sure that they are compliant with the MLC requirements. The Convention, which came into force in August 2013, will apply to all commercial vessels which fly the flag of a State party and are engaged in international voyages.
The Convention covers a wide range of employment issues and is organised into 5 sections, including ‘Conditions of employment’. Skuld has compiled a practical checklist of information that must be included in the Seafarer’s Employment Agreement.