Seafarers get a new bill of rights

Seafarers will soon see real benefits to their working conditions, as a result of the adoption of the Maritime Labour Convention (“MLC”) in 2006. The convention will provide comprehensive rights and protection at work for the world’s seafarers.

The convention

“The most important change is that it has a comprehensive enforcement system for all vessels, even when their flag states have not signed up to the convention”, says Ronalda Verdoes – Corporate Lawyer at Atlas Professionals. She continues: “The MLC will come into force 12 months after ratification by at least 30 ILO member countries with a total share of at least 33 per cent of the world’s gross tonnage of ships. This high standard of ratification is designed to achieve a real change for the sector. Currently, 28 countries have ratified the convention, with which the 33 per cent condition already has been met.” The expectation is that the MLC will come into force mid 2013. The countries that are responsible for regulation conditions on the major part of the world’s merchant fleet will therefore need to implement the standards at a national level.

Rights and protections at work

The MLC gives seafarers basic rights and protections at work. It says that seafarers have a right to a safe and secure workplace, where safety standards are complied with, where the seafarer has fair terms of employment, decent living and working conditions and social protection such as access to medical care, health protection and welfare.

Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance

“A seafarer is defined as any person who is employed, engaged or working in any capacity on board of a ship to which the MLC applies. So this includes also hotel and catering staff on cruise ships!”, emphasizes Ronalda. “The MLC furthermore applies to all ships with the exception of inland waterway ships, fishing vessels and warships and naval auxiliaries. Each flag state will decide for itself how to comply with the MLC so conditions will vary from flag state to flag state. This is permitted so long as the convention’s requirements are met and the ship complies with the flag state’s standards, which must be set out in the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance (“DMLC”). In addition to the DMLC, each ship over 500 GT, operating in international waters or between ports of different counties has to have a maritime labour certificate, to be applied for by the ship owner. The certificate confirms that the vessel complies with the convention requirements.”


Most of the requirements of the MLC will be implemented in a new paragraph 7.10.12 to the Dutch Civil Code. The rest will be implemented by adjusting existing laws. “The scope of the new paragraph will be limited to Dutch flagged seaships and this means that paragraph 7.10.12 of the Dutch Civil Code not applies for seafarers on a foreign flagged seaship, even though the seafarer, the shipowner or the homeport is Dutch!”, warns Ronalda. “This means a limitation of the scope of the MLC, only for Dutch flagged ships, and the question is if this has been the intention of the Dutch government. Implementation of this new paragraph is foreseen for January 1, 2013. We have to wait and see if the scope will be altered before implementation or not….”


Atlas Services Group Merchant B.V. has already started with reviewing the MLC requirements and consequences. “We have asked Bureau Veritas to audit Atlas Services Group Merchant B.V. by meaning of a pre qualification in order to be able to show our clients that we are compliant with MLC on time. We have made a gap analysis and based on this gap analysis we have changed some of our procedures, we have reviewed and adjusted our employment contract and we have taken action on several other outstanding action points”, says Ronalda. Atlas Services Group Merchant B.V. expects to be MLC-proof by 1 August 2012. This is important for our clients, since they have to apply for the ship owner’s certificate and they have to prove that they and their service providers comply with the MLC-requirements.

Ronalda Verdoes

Ronalda Verdoes takes care of all legal issues that arises from the business of Atlas Professionals. She has about 15 years experience in labour law, company law, contracting law and merger & acquisitions. If you would like to have more information about the Maritime Labour Convention, please contact her on +31 23 556 04 35 or