The WMU Alumni Webinar Series continued on 29 September with the subject of Covid-19 and Labour: Revisiting the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. The webinar provided insights concerning seafarers´ rights embedded in the MLC, 2006, such as those related to their conditions of employment and occupational safety and health (OSH). Compliance with seafarers´ rights is key to their welfare and well-being and the MLC, 2006 requires the establishment of OSH programmes on board ships to address inter alia mental health aspects.
Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of WMU, opened the discussion focusing on the principal features of the MLC, 2006. She highlighted that although seafarers are indispensable to world trade, they are among the world’s workers who have encountered and continue to face the greatest challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. She emphasized that flag States, port States and labour supplying countries are required under the MLC to ensure the protection of seafarers’ rights. “Seafaring is a global profession and in normal circumstances it can only be carried out with the coordination of States and more so in times of a pandemic like COVID-19. Regrettably, countries have suspended the application of the MLC without acknowledging that seafarers are the unsung heroes of the pandemic,” she said.
Conditions of employment and OSH matters were addressed by Dr Laura Carballo Piñeiro, Professor, Nippon Foundation Chair of Maritime Labour Law and Policy and Head of the Maritime Law and Policy Specialization. The focus of the presentation was on the MLC’s requirements that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on halt, in particular repatriation, access to shore-based facilities and medical care. Dr Carballo examined the seafarer’s employment agreement (SEA) to remind States and stakeholders that general extensions of time on board are impossible; the termination of the contract is agreed upon in the SEA and if the seafarer disagrees on an extension, flag State inspection and port State control will have a reason for inspection and detention because (s)he will be on board without a SEA. COVID-19 also reminds us that Regulation 2.5 requires flag State authorities to arrange for repatriation of seafarers with the involvement of port States and labour-supplying countries if necessary. “The same applies to health protection, medical care, welfare and social security measures enshrined in Title 4 of the MLC, where States’ responsibilities are clearly allocated and they cannot hide behind COVID-19 by not complying with them,” said Dr Carballo.
The latest maritime safety data and evidence-based research trends call for coordinated and effective management of seafarers’ mental health and wellbeing. Dr Maria Carrera Arce, Research Associate, addressed the issue of mental health and how the pandemic could act as a catalyst for change with respect to promoting mental health and education programmes as preventive measures to effectively implement OSH onboard. She stressed that OSH programmes, as plans of action designed to prevent accidents and occupational issues, should include the elements required by the health and safety legislation as a minimum. This includes access to shore-based welfare facilities, an aspect that is very important for seafarers’ psychological health and that has been seriously impacted by COVID-19 pandemic.
The webinar was moderated by Dr. Max Mejia, Director of PhD Programme and Associate Academic Dean. Over 270 participants from 33 countries, and all continents, registered for the event that was opened beyond WMU Alumni to general registration from the public.