ILO Maritime Labour Convention: What’s Really in Store?

10 November 2008 By Peter Baker

We’ve all heard the rumors circulating about the upcoming legislation resulting from the Maritime Labour Convention, adopted in 2006 by the International Labour Organization (ILO), and how badly it will affect the yachting industry. “Yacht crew cabins are too small and will be illegal;” “We’re going to be part of a union,” etc, etc.

This convention sets out seafarer’s rights to decent working conditions. Generally, yachties are well fed, well paid and well accommodated, so this really isn’t about us. Rather, it’s aimed at those shipping companies that are grossly exploiting third-world labor to chase a profit. Some cargo ship crew live in appallingly unsafe and unsanitary conditions, working excessive hours for very minimal wages.

When will we see these new rules?
Luckily, not until at least 2011. Only a handful of the needed 30 maritime countries have signed up to the agreement so far, though enough have promised to do so at some stage soon.

Who will they affect?
All yacht crew, since anyone employed in any capacity on an internationally traveling vessel is a “seafarer.”

Yachts over 500 tons will need to be inspected and certificated (similar to ISM and ISPS). Yachts under 500 tons will need to abide by the rules, but are subject to inspection by authorities anywhere in the world.

In addition, manning and crew agencies will need to be inspected, certificated and abide by strict codes of practice. Of course, yacht crewing organizations are a very different animal from shipping-based agencies, say, in Manila, which recruit thousands monthly for the cruise ships.

How will the rules affect yacht crew?
Under the Maritime Labour Convention, crew contracts or agreements will need to be very specific on items such as pay, health insurance, leave and work hours. Crew must be given proper living conditions, medical care, a trained chef, monthly wage statements and repatriation, when due. However, it's good to keep in mind, there's no minimum wage specified.

How will this affect crew agencies?
Crew agencies should remember they are now responsible for informing seafarers of the terms and conditions of the job before they go on board, or travel thousands of miles only to find someone else has already gotten the position. The convention demands that vessels only work with licensed or regulated crew placement services. Exactly how this will affect the proliferation of yacht crew agents is not yet certain.

What about cabin size?
The new standards will only affect yachts whose keel is laid after the implementation of these rules. Existing yachts are grandfathered in. Generally, cabins should be at least seven square meters; 14.5 square meters if accommodating four people. Many other details also are specified, such as mirrors, coat hooks and vermin-resistant bunks.

In summary, the new ILO regulations are still some way off, and at this point their bark seems worse than their bite — but do expect more paperwork, inspections and confusion. Captains should review their crew agreements. The Cayman Shipping Registry has produced a lengthy but thorough draft example, which covers all the required points. Yacht designers should be on alert that they will have to make some nifty changes to future yachts.

Tell us your concerns about the possible fallout from the Maritime Labor Convention and how it may affect your job.

Peter Baker is president of Megayacht Technical Services – providing consultancy, management and support to yacht captains on rules and regulations.