The 20th of August was the beginning of a new era for the international shipping community. That day saw the implementation of the International Labour Organization's Maritime Labour Convention, which promises to raise the standard and improve the quality of work and competition for seafarers and shipowners across the globe.
Making Maritime History
Lauded as a historical milestone by the International Labour Organization's Director-General Guy Ryder, the convention is truly a gigantic first step for the maritime community. While its improvements may seem basic, even rudimentary, by comparison to other industry standards -- improving working and living conditions for seafarers, and encouraging healthy competition between shipowners and operators -- this convention affects a global industry and was produced thanks to international efforts and a tripartite dialogue.
Supporters of the Convention called on countries with a vested maritime interest to ratify as soon as possible, and asked that all involved countries and shipowners work together swiftly in order to put the new rules into effect.
Overwhelming Support from All Sides
While important, the additional support was hardly necessary. For the convention to become binding international law, it needed to receive ratification by no fewer than 30 International Labour Organization member states. By August 20th it had received ratification by more than 45. That number accounts for 70 percent of the world's gross shipping tonnage -- an overwhelming amount of support. For the first 30 countries that registered ratifications by August 20th of last year, the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC, 2006) became binding law on the 20th of last month. The remaining countries with ratifications will wait 12 months from the date of registration until they fall under the convention's jurisdiction.
During the five years of its gestation, the convention received the endorsement of organizations representing both workers and owners, like the International Shipowners Federation (ISF) and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF). With the continued help of these organizations, the convention was adopted in 2006 during a special session of the International Labour Conference.
Other vocal supporters of the Convention include the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a group that presides over the global shipping sector, responsible for around 90 percent of international trade world-wide. Additionally, many major port cities like Tokyo and Paris are implementing standards that preemptively comply with the convention laws in order to improve and strengthen state control inspections of their ports.
The European Union has jumped on board, implementing directives to make way for the convention's impacts.
The Future of Shipping
Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, director of the International Labour Standards Department of the International Labour Organization, called the Convention's implementation a "unique event" and stressed the significance of turning intention into action.
"What is now ratification and legal implementation," she said, "must become real life practice in order for anyone -- seafarers or shipowners -- to reap the real benefits and protections that the convention promises to deliver."
She also stressed the importance of ratification. ILO member states should act to ratify, she said, because the more states ratify and implement convention standards, the sooner the world will see a blooming maritime industry that is safer, more stable, and ultimately more lucrative for everyone involved.
Through international standards that outline the baseline of industry expectations, standards that promise seafarers safe work at reasonable pay while offering shipowners a fair market in which to operate a competitive business, the convention hopes to achieve and promote trustworthy and effective shipping across the globe.
These new standards will ensure that more and more quality maritime services are available to business owners and operators at every port. With support from all angles of government and industry, maritime success is guaranteed.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower and freelance writer. He's a frequent contributor to Mainstreet, Lifehack, and HardcoreDroid and an affiliate of Manduka and Amazon. He documents his experiences working with Anonymous, practicing yoga, and fighting the banks on his blog.