The Maritime Labor Convention: New Protections for those who work on the High Seas

I.  Introduction

On February 23, 2006, the International Labor Organization adopted the Maritime Labor Convention. The convention is an attempt to consolidate all existing maritime labor regimes and to provide a comprehensive rights based charter for maritime employees.  The United States participated in the conference in the hopes that by passing this convention more economic benefits may flow to the American maritime industry. The convention may provide a basis for American employees to maintain and enhance traditional rights such as maintenance and cure.

II.  History & Standards

On February 23, 2006, after two weeks of frantic activity and last minute haggling, the International Labor Organization (ILO) adopted the long debated Maritime Labor Convention. [1] The convention, a comprehensive new labor regime for those working in the maritime industry, was adopted by a vote of 314 for, with no votes against, and four abstentions. [2] Two major goals of the treaty include providing a comprehensive rights based charter for the workers of the maritime industry and consolidating nearly all existing maritime labor standards in order to meet current and future needs. [3] The convention covers a wide range of rights to decent working conditions for seafarers and covers other subjects including health, safety, minimum age, recruitment, hours of work, and other issues affecting seafarers’ lives. [4] The labor standards will apply to 1.2 million workers who work on ships weighing more than 500 gross tons. [5] The convention will become effective upon ratification by thirty of the one hundred ILO member states who account for at least thirty three percent of shipping weight worldwide. [6] If adopted, this convention can provide much needed support to bolster the rights of those who work in the maritime industry worldwide.

III.  Implications

The International Labor Organization is the UN specialized agency which promotes internationally recognized human and labor rights. The United States is a member of the ILO and participated in the Maritime Labor Conference. [7] The U.S. representative, Mr. Bruce Carlton, succinctly summarized the benefits of the treaty to the U.S. maritime industry when he stated “What is fundamentally different about this Convention is that it is about quality shipping. Beyond improving the working conditions of seafarers, it is also about further marginalizing the bad shipowners who end up costing the entire industry. This is a very sound economic benefit for the entire industry.” [8] These sentiments have been echoed by other U.S. bodies that represent seafarer’s and mariners. The Council of American Master Mariners bases their support of this treaty because of the potential economic impact that the convention will have by providing uniform labor standards in the maritime industry. [9] The major benefit of this treaty to the United States, if ratified, would be an economic boost to an industry that is having a difficult time attracting labor because of undercutting competition from countries where labor standards for seafarers are either inadequate or not enforced.   

For U.S. seafarers and mariners, the Convention will provide added support to maintain and enhance traditional rights such as maintenance and cure.  Maintenance and cure is the coverage of medical care and living expenses when a seafarer becomes sick or injured. [10] In the U.S. there have been complaints among unionized seafarer’s that maintenance payments do not reflect reasonable living payments and that collective bargaining agreements still limit maintenance to eight dollars a day. [11] On the other hand non-unionized American mariners are entitled to maintenance of actual reasonable living expenses. [12] The convention in Regulation 4.2(a) states that “shipowners shall be liable to bear the costs for seafarers working on their ships in respect of sickness and injury of the seafarers occurring between the date of commencing duty and the date upon which they are deemed duly repatriated, or arising from their employment between those dates.” [13] One can argue based on the language of the treaty and the guidelines to interpret these regulations that costs should be uniform among all workers to protect the health and welfare of all seafarers in a manner that reflects the purpose of the treaty. 

IV. Conclusion

The treaty, if adopted by the member states, shall be a big move forward in not only recognizing labor rights for seafarers on a global scale but in promoting the safety and longetivity of one of the most important industries in the modern world.

[1] Press Release, International Labor Organization, ILO Adopts Sweeping New Charter for Maritime Sector (Feb. 23, 2006), available at .
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] ILO Director –General Says New Maritime Convention on Track to Make ‘Labour History,’ U.S. FEDERAL NEWS, Feb. 20, 2006.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] International Labor Organization, supra note 1.
[8] Id.
[9] The Council of American Masters Mariners, Inc., CAMM Views and Positions, available at (last visited  Sept. 25, 2009).
[10] Douglas B. Stevenson, Seafarers’ Rights Face a Worldwide Crisis, available at (last visited  Sept. 25, 2009).
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Maritime Labor Convention, February 23, 2006, Reg. 4.2(2),