Monday, September 2, 2013

Flag State Under Fire from Seafarers' Union Over Employment on Merchant Ships

Panama Ruling Transgresses International Convention
Shipping News Feature

UK – PANAMA – WORLDWIDE – There is much concern amongst unions of late regarding the employment of staff under conditions specifically designed to circumvent current legislation, such as the ‘zero hours’ contracts so favoured by many large institutions. Now the maritime professionals’ union Nautilus International has expressed concern about a move by Panama to exclude merchant navy cadets from the provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC).

The MLC, known widely as the seafarers’ bill of rights, defines seafarer as ‘any person, including the master, who is employed or engaged or works in any capacity on board a ship’. The MLC was adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2006 but only came into effect last month. This was because ILO Conventions become law a year after ratification and not until August 2012 had the demanding entry conditions been met, ensuring that all the states concerned had the capacity to inspect and certify ships and employment conditions.

Panama, the world’s largest vessel registry, recently stated that it does not classify many personnel working at sea as seafarers. This list includes cadets, superintendents, armed guards, specialist offshore technicians and ‘any other person or category of persons as indicated by the Administration’ and Nautilus disagrees vehemently with this viewpoint with General Secretary Mark Dickinson, saying:

“We don’t accept that cadets should be excluded from the MLC and we are appalled that Panama is seeking to argue that they are not considered seafarers. The convention was drawn up with the specific intention of ensuring that anyone working at sea is covered by the protection it provides – and the definition of seafarer was agreed on the clear basis of including hotel staff, entertainers and riding gangs, indeed, anyone working on board for any significant period.

“It is very disappointing that the world’s biggest ship registry is already seeking to undermine the agreed aims and ambition of the MLC and we are actively challenging Panama’s interpretation. We have requested the International Transport Workers’ Federation to raise this matter formally with the International Labour Organisation.”