International Labour Standards on Seafarers
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International Labour Standards on Seafarers

An estimated 90% of world trade makes use of maritime transport, depending on more than 1.2 million seafarers to operate ships. Many seafarers ply waters distant from their home. Seafarers and shipowners are often of different nationalities, and ships often operate under a flag different from their origin or ownership. Seafarers are also frequently exposed to difficult working conditions and particular occupational risks. Working far from home, they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, non-payment of wages, non-compliance with contracts, exposure to poor diet and living conditions, and even abandonment in foreign ports. Only standards observed by all seafaring nations can guarantee adequate protection for workers in the world's first genuinely global industry.

Selected relevant ILO instruments

  • On 23 February 2006, the 94th International Labour Conference (Maritime) adopted the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, which sets out the conditions for decent work in the increasingly globalized maritime sector.

    The Convention sets minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship and contains provisions on conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection. Compliance and enforcement are secured through onboard and onshore complaint procedures for seafarers, and through provisions regarding shipowners' and shipmasters' supervision of conditions on their ships, flag States' jurisdiction and control over their ships, and port state inspection of foreign ships. The Convention also provides for a maritime labour certificate, which can be issued to ships once the flag State has verified that labour conditions on board a ship comply with national laws and regulations implementing the Convention.

    Among the novel features of the Convention are its form and structure, which includes legally binding standards accompanied by non-mandatory guidelines. It departs significantly from that of traditional ILO Conventions. Parts of the Convention relating to technical and detailed implementation of obligations can be updated under an accelerated amendment procedure. The Convention is to become what has been called the "fourth pillar" of the international regulatory regime for shipping, complementing the key Conventions of the International Maritime Organization.

    The new Convention consolidates and updates 68 existing ILO maritime Conventions and Recommendations adopted since 1920. Countries that do not ratify the new Convention will remain bound by the previous Conventions that they have ratified, although those instruments will be closed to further ratification. For more information, see the Maritime Labour Convention website.

  • The Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention (Revised), 2003 (No. 185) - [ratifications] replaces ILO Convention No. 108, adopted in 1958. It establishes a more rigorous identity regime for seafarers with the aim of developing effective security from terrorism and ensuring that the world's seafarers will be given the freedom of movement necessary for their well-being and for their professional activities and, in general, to facilitate international commerce.

    The Convention sets out the basic parameters and allows the details in its annexes, like the precise form of the identity document (ID), to be easily adapted subsequently to keep up with technological developments. A major feature of the ID is a biometric template based on a fingerprint. A Resolution accompanying the Convention requests the ILO Director-General to take urgent measures for the development of "a global interoperable standard for the biometric, particularly in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)". It also makes provision for the facilitation of shore leave and transit and transfer of seafarers, including the exemption from holding a visa for seafarers taking shore leave.

    To avoid the risk of an ID being issued to the wrong person, the Convention also requires ratifying member States to maintain a proper database available for international consultation by authorized officials and to have and observe adequate procedures for the issuance of IDs. Those procedures, which cover not only the security aspects but also the necessary safeguards for individual rights, including data protection, will be subject to transparent procedures for international oversight.

Previous maritime instruments include :

Further information

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