The Maritime Labour Convention 2006: A Frozen Revolution in the Realisation of Social Justice for Seafarers

University essay from Lunds universitet/Juridiska institutionen

Abstract: Realising social justice has been one of the central goals of the International Labour Organisation since its inception. Yet today the unique environment and dangers associated with working at sea make the world’s 1.2 million seafarers a particularly vulnerable group, both in terms of their physical safety and mental wellbeing, and concerning the realisation of social justice. Social justice is a somewhat abstract term, taken to refer to the “fair” balance of power and benefits between different groups in society. Central to this notion of “fairness” is the respect for liberties and human dignity. However, international maritime law has traditionally focused on political and economic considerations rather than the social needs of the seafarer. This problem has been exacerbated by the advent of globalisation and an increasing tendency within the industry for shipowners to seek out flags of convenience, allowing them to legitimately subvert the international labour standards developed by the ILO with the intention of cutting operational costs. Seafarers have become commodified, seen as objects of the industry rather than subjects of the law who are entitled to rights and protections. This thesis examines how the innovations contained in the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention are likely to combat these problems and influence the realisation of social justice for seafarers when they come into effect in August 2013. While not revolutionising the content of the rights and protections afforded to seafarers during the course of their employment, this thesis identifies several innovations concerning implementation and enforcement where the MLC has broken new ground and looks set to revolutionise the realisation of social justice for seafarers. Consolidation of the previous plethora of maritime labour conventions into a single instrument seems set to increase the accessibility and understanding of rights for seafarers while also providing a focal point through which to incorporate maritime labour considerations into international maritime law – achieving so-called “Fourth Pillar” status for the MLC. In addition, a global legal space for maritime labour rights looks set to be created, working within the jurisdictional framework already established by maritime labour law to strive towards the universalization of seafarers’ rights and foster the ability to human rights forum shop to gain access to justice. Finally, the MLC has provided, for the first time, a legal foundation backed by an enforcement mechanism embedded in competition norms for corporate social responsibility, turning the flag of convenience system on its head and seeking to hand the competitive advantages to those shipping companies who respect and adhere to international labour standards. The thesis concludes by reflecting recognising that the MLC has therefore made considerable strides towards the substantive realisation of social justice but tempers this by acknowledging the need to monitor and evaluate how these provisions are interpreted and applied in practice when the Convention comes into effect.

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