Opinion: Sustainable Seafarer Onshore Welfare Funding; Pertinent Lessons From The Past

“What an indictment on the UN system and to the shipping industry of the 21st century that such a salient piece of international legislation depends upon the full participation of charitable organisations to have any practical effect!”

12 years ago, the late Revd. Canon Ken Peters, the then Director of Justice & Welfare for the Mission to Seafarers, attended the 2010 Seafarers’ Welfare Forum hosted by the Australia Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in Melbourne, Australia as part of The Year of the Seafarer celebrations.

With the support of colleagues, he presented a paper on the role of welfare organisations with clear messaging which reverberates as equally today as it did then around the pursuance of the necessary application of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 for seafarer’s welfare and sustainable funding support.

Sustainable Seafarer Onshore Welfare Funding
Credits; Human Rights At Sea

Today, as policy and preparation work strands are conducted to capitalise upon the seminal 2021 New Zealand Government’s precedent in updating primary legislation of the 1994 Maritime Transport Act to provide for sustainable welfare funding across onshore welfare providers through maritime levy funds, those lessons should be highlighted once more to the wider international community.

Policy makers at state level should be reminded of and indeed place the correct weighting on the key importance to all welfare providers of the necessary onshore services for seafarers.

They should equally note past issues raised and not, as we have regularly articulated, ‘kick-the-can’ down the proverbial road.

Time is not on our side, or more correctly contextualised, it is not on the side of those very workers who move 90% of our daily and indeed essential goods around the world’s oceans.

Therefore, when reading the 2010 Paper one cannot but be struck by the fundamental concerns presented by Ken, articulated in a way that only Ken could.

Attached and for download, Human Rights at Sea has highlighted what we consider are key lessons identified in the Paper to be widely aware of and to be acted upon without delay.

Ken noted that the MLC; “…clearly affirms seafarers, counting them not as disposable commodities but as the agents of safety at sea, the enablers of international trade and the most important asset that the shipping industry has.”

He went on to say; “It is somewhat surprising that in an industry that dates to the earliest spread of civilisation it is deemed necessary in the twenty first century to codify what the rights of seafarers are and what are the living and working conditions that need to be protected within international law. Perhaps the industry has now ‘come of age’ in recognising the issues as worthy of an international convention of the United Nations.”

“The success or failure of the MLC 2006 in terms of delivering the provision of welfare services to seafarers depends upon, almost exclusively the maritime welfare practitioners located in ports.”

“Having a system of redress, a legal remedy and the ability to seek satisfaction is obviously essential should shore side welfare services be denied. The identification of welfare needs is the ‘sharp end’ of this convention. Identification is equally essential to the outworking of the convention. For seafarers to know what their rights are and what protection in law they have is clearly important. Knowing how their living and working conditions fit into the provisions of the convention is equally important.”

Today, we appear to be advocating across the sector many of the same concerns including; “…this international convention of the United Nations is depending for its implementation upon charity. What an indictment on the UN system and to the shipping industry of the 21st century that such a salient piece of international legislation depends upon the full participation of charitable organisations to have any practical effect!”

12 years on, we must question why, in so many respects, we are still in the same position as in 2010, especially in respect to assuring long-term sustainability for seafarers’ welfare.

The route to such assurance could well be the global implementation of funding sources for all welfare providers, without bias, from the existing and daily collected levies on every vessel that visits a port. It is not as if the funds are not there already.

For Human Rights at Sea and our supporting partners, the ongoing Maritime Levy Campaign, established in 2019, the solution is not hard to achieve or deliver.

Nonetheless, the obstacles to this positive remedy boil down to:

1) a political will to support and implement,

2) a collaborative sector and stakeholders working to establish a working framework model,

3) the positive requirements in national law to enact (and therefore not to later be subject withdrawal) and,

4) the avoidance of further delay in implementation.

We will leave the final word to the late Revd. Canon Ken Peters.

“What the MLC 2006 fails to address, however is the global phenomena that catering for the welfare needs of seafarers is entirely dependent upon charity. Without the maritime missions there would be virtually no provision of shore side welfare facilities. This fact is an indictment upon the shipping industry on two counts. The first is that charity is needed and the second is that there is no one else in the industry to fulfil this role except for the maritime ministries.”

CALL TO ACTION. If the New Zealand Government can take the proper legal and moral steps to implement legislative change in support of seafarers’ safety, security and well-being then so can every other coastal state along with the overt backing of the likes of the IMO and ILO and the wider shipping industry.

Act now, stop the delays and implement.

Reference: Human Rights At Sea

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