Academic journal article International Labour Review

Who Will Give Effect to the ILO's Maritime Labour Convention, 2006?

Academic journal article International Labour Review

Who Will Give Effect to the ILO's Maritime Labour Convention, 2006?

Article excerpt


The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, which takes effect on 20 August 2013, consolidates dozens of ILO standards adopted since the 1920s. It has been described as the "fourth pillar" of the international maritime regulatory regime, alongside three major IMO Conventions on safety at sea and marine pollution control. The challenge, the authors argue, will be to enforce it within the existing inspection frameworks of flag State implementation and "port State control". Technically, the responsibility rests on the former, but the proliferation of flags of convenience suggests that the latter will have a crucial part to play too, as will, in either case, inspector training.

The main purpose of this paper is to consider the difficulties likely to beset the implementation of the ILO's Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, which enters into force on 20 August 2013. It does so chiefly in the light of past experience in the implementation of other major international conventions - particularly those of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on safety at sea and pollution control - which gives some idea of the nature and sources of the challenges that most probably lie ahead.

In the context of the globalization and deregulation of the shipping industry, cost competition has led to the proliferation of open registries and flags of convenience, which make it much harder to uphold international standards consistently. And these trends are compounded by a shift in seafarer recruitment practices towards the hiring of low-cost "crews of convenience" and a tendency to outsource inspection and certification services. So while the new ILO Convention will no doubt strengthen the overall maritime regulatory framework - as the "fourth pillar" of the international regulatory regime - it will also increase the responsibilities of States parties in regard to inspection and enforcement. In short, the challenge of applying the ILO's new standards in this context promises to be tough.

In an attempt to put the issues into broader perspective, we have organized our paper into four main sections. The first briefly recalls the origins and development of international regulation of commercial shipping, from the first British statutes on maritime safety to the first international conferences and the setting of IMO and ILO standards. The second section reviews the key institutional mechanisms that are relied upon to enforce the international regulatory regime, from flag State implementation to port State control and the role of "classification societies". The third section considers the major developments that have occurred in the shipping industry as a result of globalization and deregulation over the past few decades, including the emergence of open registries, the use - and abuse - of flags of convenience and the internationalization of crewing recruitment. The final section concludes with a discussion of the challenge of enforcing maritime labour standards in this environment.

The regulation of safety and labour in maritime transport

In 1876, after years of campaigning, Samuel Plimsoll, a Liberal MP, finally succeeded in persuading the British Parliament to amend the Merchant Shipping Act to discourage the overloading of cargo ships by means of mandatory "load lines", a symbol displayed on the hull to mark the minimum "freeboard".1 Over time, this symbol generally became known as the Plimsoll line. It was perhaps the first of the important safety decisions taken with the emergence of steam power in maritime transport.

The British Empire, by then already the world's leading maritime power, subsequently set up various committees for the protection of human life at sea and the investigation of maritime accidents. It was the first country to regulate the number and capacity of the lifeboats carried by ships. Many other countries then also stepped up their efforts to improve safety for seafarers and the prevention of maritime accidents. …

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