HOW MARITIME LABOUR CONVENTION WILL AFFECT NIGERIA
As Nigeria moves to implement the ratified Maritime Labour Convention 2006, a regime of international best practices for her seafarers gears up putting greedy shipowners to task on the need to measure up on seafarers’ welfare.
With recent moves aimed at setting in place the operational template for training of surveyors the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has reiterating its readiness on the implementation as the country prepares to submit its ratification to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in June 18 2014.
The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (“MLC, 2006”) establishes minimum working and living standards for all seafarers working on ships flying the flags of ratifying countries.
It’s also an essential step forward in ensuring a level-playing field for countries and shipowners who, until now, have paid the price of being undercut by those who operate substandard ships.
Rising from a recent training of about 50 personnel, the stage appears set for Nigerian seafarers to be ranked at par with the counterparts in other climes in terms of welfare, safety and remuneration.
This post ratification regime is expected to inject pride in sailing as a Nigerian and under a Nigerian flagged vessel as only serious vessel owners capable of meeting the demands of the regime will engage professional seafarers.
Popularly called the “seafarers’ bill of rights,” the MLC, 2006 was adopted by government, employer and workers representatives at a special ILO International Labour Conference in February 2006 for a uniform standard in addressing the plight of seafarers globally.
Nigeria’s dearth of seafarers that is fast being addressed through NIMASA’s National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) and other training initiatives like the newly established Nigeria Maritime University will place her teeming number of upcoming seafarers in a position to benefit from the convention
.The Convention is comprehensive and sets out, in one place, seafarers’ rights to decent working conditions. It covers almost every aspect of their work and life on board including:
- minimum age
- seafarers’ employment agreements
- hours of work or rest
- payment of wages
- paid annual leave
- repatriation at the end of contract
- onboard medical care
- the use of licensed private recruitment and placement services
- accommodation, food and catering
- health and safety protection and accident prevention and
- seafarers’ complaint handling
Many Nigerian vessel owners including leading members of Nigeria Shipowners Association (NISA) have been discovered to be culpable in the area of poor remuneration and deficient welfare package for their onboard vessel employees.
Some NISA members that may have long gone bankrupt and unable to meet basic seafarers’ needs onboard their vessels may have to adjust into the dictates of the convention or quit.This becomes imperative as vessels under the flag of ratified countries will be expected to sail with proof of compliance.
The shipowners body whose members could not meet up with 15 percent equity counterpart funding required to access Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) seems interested in hijacking the planned set up of a new national shipping line as announced recently by Akpobolokemi.
Why is the MLC, 2006 so important?
First, because it brings together, in one place, international minimum standards that ensure decent work for the estimated more than 1.5 million seafarers around the world whose work is essential to international trade as well as to an increasingly important form of tourism and recreational activity. Under the MLC, 2006 every seafarer has the right to:
- a safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards
- fair terms of employment
- decent working and living conditions on board ship
- health protection, medical care, welfare measures and other forms of social protection
Second, because it will help to provide a level playing field for quality ship- owners operating under the flag of countries that have ratified the MLC, 2006. The goal is to ensure that decent working conditions go hand in hand with fair competition.
This MLC, 2006 shows how tripartite dialogue and international cooperation can operate constructively for the most globalized of industries, by concretely addressing the challenges to securing decent working and living conditions for seafarers, while simultaneously helping to ensure fair competition for ship- owners.
According to the ILO,all commercially operated ships of 500 gross tonnage or over that fly the flag of any of the 30 countries that brought the MLC, 2006 into force will, if they operate on international voyages, be required to carry, among other things, two specific documents: the Maritime Labour Certificate (MLC) and the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance (DMLC).
These documents will provide prima facie evidence that the ships are in compliance with the requirements of the Convention, including areas such as minimum age, seafarers’ employment agreements, hours of work or rest, payment of wages, onboard medical care, the use of licensed private recruitment and placement services, accommodation, and food and catering and health and safety protection and accident prevention.
The MLC and DMLC will be subject to inspection when ships enter the ports of other countries that have ratified the MLC, 2006.
In addition, ships flying the flag of countries that have not ratified the MLC, 2006 are also subject to inspection with respect to working and living conditions for seafarers when those ships enter in port of countries where the MLC, 2006 is in force. This inspection, called “no more favourable treatment,” is an important aspect of the Convention, aimed at helping to ensure fair competition for ship-owners who comply with the MLC, 2006 by providing decent work for seafarers.
Speaking at the opening ceremony and flag off of the training put together by NIMASA and Matral Maritime Training Centre (MMTC) in Lagos recently, Director General of the agency, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi said that the training is necessary to achieve the objectives of a uniform implementation of flag state inspection thus to ensure ongoing compliance at port state levels.
According to him, some of the provisions of the MLC,2006 already existed in the NIMASA Act and the Merchant Shipping Act,2007.This will likely make compliance and implementation easier.
Akpobolokemi said that the inherent innovations and the social right enshrined in the convention require the inspectors who are expected to carry out flag and port inspections must be adequately trained in line with the provisions before authorisation.
Speaking further the NIMASA man noted that “it is also necessary to involve the training of staff of the relevant departments who need the basic knowledge and understanding of the convention to successfully carry out their duties”.
“This is imperative and in line with the agency’s philosophy of achieving the objective of providing a decent living and working environment for seafarers through the development and retention of high calibre officers on international labour standards.”
Akpolobokemi also added that the resource persons for the training were drawn from both local and international levels adding “it is in line with the foregoing that the agency is facilitating this training through Matral Maritime Institute”.
Meanwhile,fielding questions from the media at the sideline, Agaba disclosed that “we have surveyors that are doing the job and it is a consolidation because we need to fresh and train them in consolidation and come June 18, 2014 NIMASA will be ready”.
MLC 2006 according to Agaba, will address issues faced by seafarers adding that crew members will no longer suffer from the hands of their employers and issues of welfare will be addressed.
On his part, Executive Director,Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services,, Barrister Callistus Obi pointed out that since its adoption and eventual ratification of June 18th, 2013 adding that the agency had been preparing to ensure NIMASA keeps faith with the implementation of its provisions.
He noted that some of the landmark achievements made so far include, sensitisation of the stakeholders in the industry pointing out that”facilitating the development of the national legal provision of the convention, design of the relevant certificates and documents on the MLC 2006,participation on the amendment of the code relating to regulation2.5 or repatriation and regulation A4.2 on ship owners liability”.
The maritime lawyer further noted that the training with the selection of staff from the following departments is in line with the spirit of the joint ILO and IMO working group established for the purposes of synergy on expertise and the realisation of safe secure and efficient shipping on a cleaner ocean of the IMO.
With the joint efforts coming into force on June 18th, Obi added that the training is not only critical but crucial as it is expected that those who satisfactorily complete the course and are recommended will be committed to proceed to conducting the relevant inspection.
He lauded the effort of Matral Maritime Training Centre, the foreign and local resource persons that will train the inspectors on international best practise.
Addressing the media,Director Maritime Labour Services, Mrs Juliana Gunwa stated that the agency is working for the coming into force of the MLC 2006 and quite a number of achievement has been recorded.
She recalled that in 2013 the agency organised a sensitisation programme for stakeholders in Port Harcourt and Lagos adding ,the agency ensured the regulation of the convention.
Gunwa added that finishing touches has been put in place on the regulation and final endorsement by the minister of transport.
According to her, without proper training of inspectors, the agency would not be able to have sufficient manpower to do the job.
Nigeria will be joining over 30 other International Maritime Organisation member countries including Mauritius and Argentina who ratified in May 2014. Republic of Liberia and Benin were the two African countries that ratified the convention in Africa before Nigeria, which did hers in June 2013 and set to commence compliance as stipulated 12 months after ratification.
PHOTO CAPTION: EMEKA WOGU, Nigeria’s Minister of Labour.