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Maritime Labour Convention

One of the most important Conventions for seafarers is the Maritime Labour Convention, also known as the MLC. The MLC was agreed at the ILO in 2006. Its purpose is to set minimum standards of working and living conditions for seafarers on board ships.

According to the Convention, all seafarers are covered by the MLC with a few exceptions:

  • ships navigating exclusively in inland waters, close to the coast, in sheltered waters or areas where port regulations apply
  • fishing vessels
  • ships of traditional build (such as junks)
  • warships and naval auxiliaries

The MLC describes a seafarer as any person who is employed, engaged or working in any capacity on board a ship. This includes hotel and catering staff on cruise ships.

The MLC sets minimum standards on conditions of employment, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection. You can read more about the MLC on the Seafarers' Rights web page. (Opens in a new browser window)

The MLC is a useful tool to protect seafarers from exploitation. It sets minimum standards across the shipping industry. However, as a result of union negotiation, the standards contained in CBAs are usually better than the MLC. For example, the MLC says that the maximum length of a contract at sea should be 12 months and contracts covered by the NSU CBAs are usually 8 months or less.

Here is a short film about the MLC:


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