The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) came into force internationally on 20 August 2013 and will have important implications across the industry. The idea behind the MLC was to bring together in one place the 70 or so conventions which have been adopted since 1920 and to ensure that these were up to date and reflected the issues prevalent in the modern marine and shipping industry.

The MLC recognises the importance of enforcement and has empowered other countries to carry out inspections where appropriate by way of Port State Control.

The MLC complements three other important conventions:

  • SOLAS (safety at sea);
  • STCW (training certification and watch-keeping standards);
  • MARPOL (environmental protection).

The provisions of the MLC automatically apply to commercially registered yachts and/or yachts actively chartering. In order to assist the process, the UK’s Large Commercial Yacht Code, LY3, was launched by the MCA at the 2012 Monaco Yacht Show. This applied from 20 August 2013 and reflects the requirements of the MLC. The MLC does not apply to:

  • ships which navigate exclusively in inland waters or waters within, or closely adjacent to, sheltered waters or areas where port regulations apply;
  • ships engaged in fishing;
  • ships of traditional build such as dhows and junks;
  • warships or naval auxiliaries.

One of the fundamental principles of the MLC is the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. While reference in this article is made to crew members, the MLC equally applies to any person employed, engaged or working in any capacity on board a commercial yacht.Of particular relevance for super yacht owners will be the requirement that crew have the right to decent living and working conditions at sea.Each crew member will need to have an employment contract in an approved form. This will need to specify the rate of pay, entitlement to leave and the contractual working hours. The aim is to ensure fairness and transparency.Employers will also need to ensure that crew are paid salaries on a regular basis and adhere to rules relating to hours of work. Accommodation will need to meet a minimum required standard (crew accommodation in commercial super yachts built after 20 August 2013 will need to be of an increased minimum size), as will the food they are provided with. Crew need to be provided with sufficient access to medical care, welfare and social security protection.Crew will also need access to a formal complaints procedure which must be followed in the event of any dispute.The MLC will also affect crewing agencies and the way they conduct business. Employers of crew will need to make sure that the crewing agency they use is officially MLC-certified. If not, then they will need to be satisfied that they comply with the requirements of the MLC by validating licences and checking references.Agencies will no longer be entitled to charge registration fees and will need to verify that crew are properly qualified to do the job they put them forward for. Agencies cannot circulate ‘blacklists’ of crew they would not recommend employing and they must make sure that those workers on their books know about their rights and duties under their employment contracts before they start work.We are already seeing vessels detained for MLC compliance issues. An offshore supply vessel was detained in Denmark for irregularities in the crew’s employment contracts. The vessel was not allowed to sail until these has been rectified. Another vessel operating under a Cyprus flag was detained in Canada following complaints about MLC deficiencies.One aspect of the MLC which may create difficulties for yacht owners is that one of its stated aims is “the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation”. Within the industry there is often clear preference for crews of a certain nationality and a premium is paid for crew from these countries. Employers will need to keep a watchful eye on the way in which they select and employ crew. A quick trawl of crew job vacancies posted on the internet revealed a number of roles where only crew of a certain nationality were invited to apply.The MLC came into force internationally on 20 August 2013. While the UK has until 7 August 2014 to enact the MLC and begin enforcement, the MCA is already enforcing the vessel survey and certification requirements of the MLC, and enforcement of the rest of the Convention is likely to be sooner rather than later.

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.