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Maritime Labor Convention (MLC)

container123 The Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) is an International Labor Organization convention established in 2006 as the Fourth pillar of international maritime law and embodies «all up-to-date standards of existing international maritime labor Conventions and Recommendations, as well as the fundamental principles to be found in other international labor Conventions». The other «pillars are the SOLAS, STCW and MARPOL.

As of June 2013, the convention was ratified by 46 states representing 71% of global shipping. Entry into force required 30 ratifications of countries representing over 33% of the world gross tonnage of ships and will take effect on 20 August 2013, 1 year after the thirtieth ratification. Already after five ratifications the ratifying countries (Bahamas, Norway, Liberia, Marshall Islands and Panama) represented over 43% of the gross world tonnage (which is over 33%; the second requirement for entry into force).

   Content and Organization

The convention consists of the sixteen articles containing general provisions as well as the Code. The Code consists of five Titles in which specific provisions are grouped by standard (or in Title 5: mode of enforcement):

  • Title 1: Minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship
  • Title 2: Conditions of employment
  • Title 3: Accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering
  • Title 4: Health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection
  • Title 5: Compliance and enforcement

For Each Title, there are general Standards, which are further specified in mandatory Regulations (list A) as well as Guidelines (List B). Guidelines generally form a form of implementation of a Regulation according to the requirements, but States are free to have different implementation measures. Regulations should in principle be implemented fully, but a country can implement a «substantially equivalent» regulation, which it should declare upon ratification.


Title 1: Minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship

The minimum requirements set out in this section of the code are divided in 4 parts and are summarized below:

  • Minimum age requirements: the minimum age is 16 years (18 for night work and work in hazardous areas).
  • Medical fitness: workers should be medically fit for the duties they are performing. Countries should issue medical certificates as defined in the STCW (or use a similar standard).
  • Training: Seafarers should be trained for their duties as well as have had personal safety training.
  • Recruitment/placement services located in member states or for ships flying the flag of member states should have (amongst others) proper placement procedures, registration, complaint procedures and compensation if the recruitment fails


Title 2: Employment conditions

The Title on employment conditions lists conditions of the contract and payments, as well as the working conditions on ships.

  • Contracts: the contract should be clear, legally enforceable and incorporate collective bargaining agreements (if existent).
  • Payments: Wages should be paid at least every month, and should be transferable regularly to family if so desired.
  • Rest hours: rest hours should be implemented in national legislation. The maximum hours of work in that legislation should not exceed 14 hours in any 24-hour period and 72 hours in any seven-day period, or: at least ten hours of rest in any 24-hour period and 77 hours (rest) in any seven-day period. Furthermore the daily hours of rest may not be divided into more than two periods and, at least six hours of rest should be given consecutively in one of those two periods.
  • Leave: Seafarers have a right to annual leave as well as shore leave.
  • Repatriation: Returning to their country of residence should be free
  • Loss: If a ship is lost or foundered, the seafarers have a right to unemployment payments.
  • Manning: Every ship should have a sufficient manning level


Title 3: Accommodation, Recreational Facilities, Food and Catering

The title specifies rules detailed rules for accommodation and recreational facilities, as well as food and catering.

  • Accommodation: Accommodation for living and/or working should be «promoting the seafarers’ health and well-being». Detailed provisions (in rules and guidelines) give minimum requirements for various types of rooms (mess rooms, recreational rooms, dorms etc.).
  • Food and Catering: Both food quality and quantity, including water should be regulated in the flag state. Furthermore, cooks should have proper training.


Title 4: Health Protection, Medical Care, Welfare and Social Security Protection

Title 4 consists of 5 regulations about Health, Liability, Medical care, Welfare and Social security.

  • Medical care on board ship and ashore: Seafarers should be covered for and have access to medical care while on board; in principle at no cost and of a quality comparable to the standards of health care on shore. Countries through which territory a ship is passing should guarantee treatment on shore in serious cases.
  • Shipowners’ liability: Seafarers should be protected from the financial effects of «sickness, injury or death occurring in connection with their employment». This includes at least 16 weeks of payment of wages after start of sickness.
  • Health and safety protection and accident prevention: A safe and hygienic environment should be provided to seafarers both during working and resting hours and measures should be taken to take reasonable safety measures.
  • Access to shore-based welfare facilities: Port states should provide «welfare, cultural, recreational and information facilities and services» and to provide easy access to these services. The access to these facilities should be open to all seafarers irrespective of race, sex, religion or political opinion.
  • Social security: Social security coverage should be available to seafarers (and in case it is customary in the flag state: their relatives).


Title 5: Compliance and Enforcement

Title 5 sets standers to ensure compliance with the convention. The title distinguishes requirements for flag states and port states.

  • Flag states: Flag states (the state under which flag the ship operates) are responsible for ensuring implementation of the rules on the ships that fly its flag. Detailed inspections result in the issue of a «Certificate of Maritime Compliance», which should always be present (and valid) on a ship. Ships are required to have decent complaints procedures in place for its crew and should institute investigations in case of casualties.
  • Port States: The inspection in ports depends on whether a Certificate of Maritime Compliance is present (and thus a flag is flown of a country which has ratified the convention). If the Certificate is present, compliance is to be assumed in principle, and further investigations only take place if the certificate is not in order or there are indications of non-compliance. For ships that don’t have the certificate, inspections are much more detailed and should ensure -according to a «no more favorable treatment principle»that the ship has complied with the provisions of the convention. The convention is thus -indirectly- also valid for ships of non-member countries if they plan to call to ports of a member state.
  • Labour agencies: Agencies supplying on maritime workers to ships should also be inspected to ensure that they apply the convention (amongst others the regulations regarding to social security).



After tripartite negotiations had started in 2001, the convention was adopted during the 94th International Labour Convention in 2006. The convention received 314 votes in favor and none against by representatives of the government, employers and workers, who each held a single vote per country.



Counties that ratified
(cumulative by year)


The treaty has been ratified by 42 countries (excluding Fiji, Gabon, Lebanon and Vietnam, for which registration is pending the finalization of formalities), many of which are large flag states in terms of the tonnage they transport. The European Union has advised its (then) 27 members to ratify the treaty by 31 December 2010. The EU Decision provides: «Member States are hereby authorized to ratify, for the parts falling under Community competence, the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006, of the International Labor Organization, adopted on 7 February 2006. Member States should make efforts to take the necessary steps to deposit their instruments of ratification of the Convention with the Director-General of the International Labor Office as soon as possible, preferably before 31 December 2010. As of 1 July 2013, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom had done so, while Croatia did so before it entered the European Union.

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