What Singapore's new maritime labour laws really imply BY JUNE HO & TAM SHU CHING
On 20 August 2013 the Maritime Labour Convention (“MLC”) came into force. It could be argued that this brings the shipping sector, kicking and screaming, into line with other generally accepted international labour conventions—but that would be, perhaps, an over-simplification of what is are complex cross-border issues. The MLC does, however, sit as the fourth ‘pillar’ of international maritime labour law, alongside SOLAS, STCW and MARPOL. For this reason the introduction of the MLC should be applauded, as it makes shipping one of the few truly global industries which have successfully implemented global standards for safety, environmental protection, working conditions, and training. For a sector that observers are quick to criticise, this is a considerable achievement and deserves far more widespread recognition. So from a practical perspective, what is the MLC, and what does it mean for Singaporean shipowners and operators? The Maritime Labour Convention The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 is a comprehensive international Convention adopted by the International Labour Organisation that provides for the rights and protection of seafarers employed to work on board ships. It sets out the minimum standards for working conditions of seafarers, including, conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, accommodation, recreational facilities, food, health care, welfare and social security protection. To effectively enforce compliance by companies of these regulations, the MLC also provides for the establishment of a compliance and enforcement mechanism based on inspection and certification – in this regard, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (the “MPA”) has established procedures for companies to obtain certificates of compliance with the MLC standards (see paragraph 4 below). In Singapore a Tripartite Working Group, chaired by the MPA, developed and finalised the legislation and regulations. Affected companies should now review their seafarer employment contracts to ensure compliance with the MLC regulations. Companies should also develop measures to improve the working conditions of seafarers onboard vessels to ensure compliance with the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance I issued by the MPA. Seafarer’s Employment Agreements – MPA Circular No. 6 of 2013 Every seafarer working on board a Singapore-registered ship is required to have a Seafarer’s Employment Agreement (“SEA”). The current “Crew Agreement” (also known as the “Articles of Agreement”) will no longer be required and will be replaced by the individual SEA. The MPA does not prescribe for the SEA format to be used by employers, however, employers have to ensure that their SEAs contain certain minimum requirements as set out in the MLC regulations
(such as conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, accommodation, recreational facilities, food, health care, welfare and social security protection, termination conditions etc). Therefore, employers must ensure that their employment terms and conditions are aligned with the MLC as a whole. Declaration of Maritime Labour Certificate – MPA Circular No. 8 of 2013 Affected vessels Compliance with the requirements of the MLC is crucial as the all Singapore-registered ships of 500 gross tonnage and above are required to maintain a Maritime Labour Certificate and a Declaration of Maritime Compliance (“DMLC”). Singapore-registered ships below 500 tonnage are not required to be certified but will still be required to comply with all the requirements in the MLC. Requirements By way of background, the DMLC consists of two parts. The DMLC Part I is prepared and issued by MPA and contains the national requirements (in this regard, the MPA has issued DMLC Part I in Circular No. 8 of 2013). In particular, the DMCL Part I provides for the applicable standards in relation to following matters such as on board complaint procedures, health and safety requirements etc. The DMLC Part II is to be prepared by the shipowner and contains the measures to ensure compliance with the DMLC Part I. A Maritime Labour Certificate will be issued to a ship after verification, via inspection, that the ship (including its DMLC Part II) is in compliance with national requirements (as detailed in the DMLC Part I) and applicable MLC requirements. MPA has authorised 9 Recognised Organisations to conduct the inspections and to issue the Maritime Labour Certificate, on behalf of MPA. Certification – Statement of Compliance MPA requires all Singapore registered ships to comply with the MLC by 20 August 2013. However, there will be a transition period while Singapore’s national laws and regulations are being promulgated. To facilitate the transition period, the MPA requires all Singapore registered ships of 500 gross tonnage and above to have obtained a Statement of Compliance (“SOC”) by 20 August 2013 – shipowners are to have approach any of the nine recognised organisations to obtain an SOC by 20 August 2013. So if this is all news to you, or it’s on the to-do list…you might want to call someone quickly. The SOC will serve as proof of compliance with the requirements of the MLC during the transition period, and is to be carried on board until the ship is issued with a Maritime Labour Certificate. Following the promulgation of Singapore’s national laws and regulations, all Singapore registered ships of 500 gross tonnage and above are to be issued with a Maritime Labour Certificate by 31 March 2014. Shipping companies are well used to compliance procedures and paperwork, and the introduction of the MLC has been well publicised and communicated. The MLC has now been ratified by 50 States – making up over 75% of gross world tonnage – and is now a permanent feature of maritime life. And this is a good thing, as it is not the good operators who damage the sector’s reputation. With the commercial side of shipping still struggling, it is important that those who are most vulnerable, and most exposed to danger, are looked after.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.