Shipowners and seafarers’ representatives urged to set up task force and riled up over downplayed crew welfare
Both shipowners and seafarers’ representatives banded together to invoke the United Nations (UN) to set up an interagency task force to evaluate the Maritime Labour Convention’s (MLC) policies about seafarers’ rights as well as that of the shipping industry.
Much needed investigations
The industry cannot stress enough on the pandemic’s damage upon seafarers. The crew change crisis peaked with 400,000 seafarers stranded onboard beyond their contracts due to COVID-19, and worsened by governments’ inaction. To date, though the number of stranded crew is at 200,000, it is expected to rise from the new variant’s surge currently devastating India.
Only a handful of governments have taken steps to designate seafarers as key workers, granting them priority access to vaccines. The remaining crew remains stuck onboard and compelled to continue their duties were likened to forced labour. The call for a UN investigation came in a resolution adopted at the 4th session of the ILO (International Labour Organisation) Special Tripartite Committee (STC) of the MLC, held from 19-23 April 2021.
Mark Dickinson, Seafarers spokesperson at the ILO and Vice-Chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Section, noted “The MLC is an international treaty designed to protect seafarers and contribute to the provision of decent work. The governance and structure of the industry was brutally exposed during the pandemic. The industry is fragmented despite the requirements of the UN Law of the Sea and this contributed greatly to the chaos.
“The major flag states are paper tigers, with zero visibility, ability, and interest in crew welfare. Furthermore, the 97 governments who have ratified the MLC have a duty to make sure crew can get home at the end of their contracts. There are no exit clauses or special conditions. Governments who failed to ensure seafarers’ repatriation or prevented crew from getting home, denied them medical care ashore, and failed to cooperate internationally to guarantee seafarers’ rights are in clear breach of the MLC and thus their international obligations.”
More can be done for seafarers
The STC felt seafarers’ welfare remain substantially downplayed despite the latter’s efforts to sustain the global supply chains. Fabrizio Barcellona, ITF Seafarers’ Section Coordinator highlighted: “If seafarers are designated as key workers globally and allowed to move freely, it will go a long way to resolve this huge human rights problem. There are a range of measures that authorities must implement to stop the disease’s spreading to protect seafarers and port communities including testing and prioritising vaccines for seafarers and dock workers.”
Dickinson added, “Many seafarers lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and are reconsidering their career choice as a consequence of the way governments are handling the crisis. That impacted the shipping business with some companies unable to continue operating due to crew shortages, which affects the world’s economy. Governments must act urgently to prevent the situation from worsening.”
The meeting recommended improved co-operation between nations, temporary waivers to allow travel and international recognition of crew documents. All these things would help the crew crisis without significantly impacting governments’ ability to control COVID-19. It also agreed in a separate resolution that transport workers should be prioritised for vaccination, backing ITF’s public call for governments to heed WHO’s advice and implement it on humanitarian and economic grounds. The resolution sets out how governments should make vaccinations available for seafarers and recognise other countries’ vaccinations. It suggested setting up hubs in key ports for the crew’s vaccination.