MARITIME LABOUR CONVENTION
Significance of recruitment and placement servicesby FR Chowdhury
IN 1995 the shipping world witnessed two significant changes. The word ‘company’ was introduced in the STCW-78 convention and ISM Code of the SOLAS-74 where the term referred to the entity responsible for safe operation of the ship and protection of the marine environment. Safe manning was a part of the safety management that means to say that it was a responsibility of the company. Whether the company handled the matter themselves or engaged a separate crewing agency was their own business. There was no entity recognised as crewing agent or recruitment and placement services.
It is the poor third world countries that supply bulk of the seafarers. The rich ship-owners are from Norway, Denmark, United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden but for sake of convenience their ships are registered in a number of open registers like Liberia, Panama, Bahamas and Marshall Islands. These ships are managed by companies located in London, Glasgow, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hamburg and Cyprus. The administrations in Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam had no role in the employment of their seafarers except for their training and certification. Quite often seafarers were deprived of their wages and other benefits and in some cases even stranded in far corners of the world. The seafarers’ national administrations in most cases remained helpless as the ships, their owners and managers were beyond their jurisdiction.
While adopting the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, the delegates realised this important fact that the ISM companies were recruiting the seafarers from the labour/crew supplying countries through their agents in those countries and that the national administration of those countries hardly have any say on the matter. In order to give some control or leverage to those administrations the convention officially recognised those involved in sending seafarers as an entity known as recruitment and placement services. It is now for the administration to exercise their jurisdiction and select the trusted agencies so that their seafarers are not cheated or deprived or stranded abroad. The national administrations of the seafarers must avail this opportunity to use their discretion to impose such terms and conditions for issue of certificate/licence to operate as RPS so that the relevant RPS remain at least partially answerable to the administration for the fate of the seafarers employed through them. This something is definitely better than nothing.
As with many other conventions, the party states may authorise the classification societies to conduct the survey and certification under the convention. However, party states must understand that RPS certification is not mere survey and certification or even quality control. It is far more than that. It is a matter of national policy to protect national interest and as such certification or licensing of RPS must be dealt directly by the Administration. All survey, audit and verification process (especially those relating to ISM companies) must ensure that only RPS certified by national authorities is employed. This will to a large extent call for responsible behaviour on the part of the RPS and the ship-management companies.
Labour supplying countries must not wait and see what the developed countries are doing. The developed countries will have no interest in RPS matter. They have no seafarers to go and work on foreign flag vessels. The USA, Canada, Norway, Germany, Australia and UK may not at all try to control or regulate RPS. In fact, there may be none. It does not bother them. Same applies to oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or
The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 missed a big opportunity. It should have got a provision: ‘Member States shall ensure appropriate legal and administrative arrangements are in place so that deprived or distressed seafarers within the jurisdiction of that state can establish their rightful claim and settle the same.’ This can only be achieved now as a future amendment. Until then we have to regard the provision of RPS as something better than nothing.
The developing countries now need to understand the significance of RPS and ensure that it is regulated in the national interest. Hopefully, they shall also push forward the suggested amendment through the amendment procedure after the convention comes into force.
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