Much has been written about the Maritime Labour Convention of late. In fact, until recently, for many the term “ratified” meant having rodents eat the gear that yachties had in storage. Although, it has to be said that the MLC’s preeminence as a discussion point possibly has been usurped recently by that other favourite, the Manilla amendments to the STCW convention. Much of the discussion about the MLC has centered on the likelihood of legislative changes to the design requirements of new yachts. Of course this is understandable given that we all rightly fear the reaction of yacht owners to being told that they will have to give up their own space in favour of providing the crew with more operational space for unimportant things like eating and sleeping.
However, the MLC does in fact have many elements that will undoubtedly affect the way we operate in the yachting sector. It’s not just about giving the crew bunks big enough to make sleeping with a basketball player a viable option. The MLC is often referred to as “The Seafarers Bill of Rights” and it seeks to regulate the standards of employment terms and conditions of all seafarers including yacht crew. As such the MLC should protect the rights of all crewmembers irrespective of their race or ethnicity. This is an important topic and was raised again recently by reports (unsubstantiated) of the deportation of ‘foreign’ dayworkers from Fort Lauderdale.
The CBP or Customs and Border Protection Agency were indeed patrolling the docks at the boat show. What is alarming is that they appeared to have lists of people or boats they were targeting. In essence, they were acting on “intelligence” and were not simply out there looking for yachties to send home. This is sad because the “intelligence” the CBP received came from people who thought they were doing the right thing by getting rid of the foreigners and who further seemed to think that this was in the interests of all those U.S. citizens connected with the yachting industry in Fort Lauderdale. In fact in this regard it was as useful as suggesting that the Israelis and Palestinians simply stop being silly and start getting along peacefully in order to stop the conflict in the Middle East. (Such was the misunderstanding of the complexity of international trade as with a global industry such as the yachting business.)
Those that sought to retaliate against foreigners invading their territory missed the point entirely; our fight should be against prejudice and discrimination itself rather than seeking to invoke protectionist measures in any one place.
What’s interesting and relevant to my point is the fall out this issue caused. There seemed to be a clear polarisation of opinion around whether or not U.S. citizens where discriminated against in the yachting industry. Now while the vast majority of comments rendered on the subject could be categorised by anyone with a brain cell as blatant xenophobia, I decided to do some research into the racial diversity of the yachting industry. After careful collation and interpretation of my admittedly amateur and informal research, I discovered that one has more chance of being run over by an aeroplane while crossing a road than actually ever meeting a black crewmember. Forget Americans being discriminated against, statistics would seem to indicate that black people have it much worse.
In a cosmopolitan industry where the great majority of crewmembers are not in any obvious way prejudiced against anyone, it seems strange to think that there is some form of de facto race filter at work. It does, however, appear to be the case that colour or ethnic background remains a bastion of employment entitlement in the yachting sector.
Where does the MLC fit in to this equation? Well as I mentioned the MLC seeks to ensure that employment terms are racially blind. In fact the MLC defines “...the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation....” as a fundamental right and principle.
So returning to my point about how the MLC might impact other areas of the way in which we presently do business in yachting, it would seem likely that our “normal” requirement to specify the nationality, age and gender of our future crewmates will not be allowed once the MLC is ratified. In fact the MLC might mean – by my estimation – that putting a photo on our resume is against the law. Now, this will be quite a shock to many.
The yachting sector has observed many modern phenomena over the last few years. We have seen plastic bottles banned on many boats, although some would say this is an efficacious measure designed to resist the plague of half empty bottles being left around the boat by the deckies. There are even some boats that now allow female crewmembers to enter the bridge without a duster in hand.
As the Twenty-first century marches on and yachting sector is inevitably caught in the grip of further rules and regulation, it will be fascinating to see whether or not yachting can confine its racial competition amongst crew to support for their teams at the Olympics. After all, the race divide rightly belongs on the track and nowhere else.