Call For Govt To Adopt Seafarers' Bill of Rights

Warren Smith, MUA, calls for Government to end crew exploitation on our coast by ratifying the ILO Seafarers' Bill of Rights.

In an impassioned speech to SEA10 Conference held at the Melbourne Convention Centre last week, Warren Smith, MUA, called for an end to crew exploitation on our coast by Government ratifying of the Bill of Rights for Seafarers.

The international Maritime Labour Convention or Seafarer's Bill of Rights will empower Australian maritime authorities to inspect ships and regulate crew conditions on board.

"We see (the MLC) as playing a vital role in creating a level playing field and avoiding the exploitation of workers," said Warren Smith.

"We see also a background of increased stress in maritime work practices which has an impact on job and social security of seafarers."

He said the MUA has long been advocating the consolidation of various seafaring International Labour Organisation conventions to protect seafarers from the rotten apples in international shipping.

"Over the period of 2007 to 2009, the ITF recovered some US$60m in backpay for international seafarers and that is just from those seafarers who actually had the courage to put their hand up.
"This becomes a point noticed by our members on the waterfront who are often the first point of contact with the exploited seafarers."

The Convention was adopted by the ILO in February 2006, but must be ratified by Australia before becoming law.

Paddy Crumlin was elected as a workers' representative on the final negotiating committee at that historic ILO Conference and spoke at the Plenary Session. 

"The extraordinary interest and support for the new Bill of Rights for seafarers reflects both the appalling lack of rights for ships' crew and the terrible exploitation they are all too often subjected to," he said.  "The strong vote reflects a worldwide determination to now provide enforceable labour standards.  It is a watershed in the shipping industry."

Mr. Bruce Carlton of the US, who chaired the Committee of the Whole at that session said

"This Convention is unique in that it has teeth.  What is fundamentally different about this Convention is that it is about quality shipping.  Beyond improving the working conditions of seafarers, it is also about further marginalizing the bad shipowners who end up costing the entire industry.  This is a very sound economic benefit for the entire industry".

The ILO Director General at the time, Juan Somavia, heralded the charter as a:

"Turning point in the history of the ILO, international labour relations and standard setting for the 21st century."

The Convention is vital and necessary in implementing decent work for the globe's 1.4 million seafarers.  It is unique in that it establishes legally binding standards accompanied by directions set out in guidelines.  It sets out a system for the certification of seafarers' labour conditions.

The Maritime Union is calling for these rights to be embedded in the reformed Navigation Act.