During the first month of the MLC, seven ships were banned from traffic around the world. Since then more have been stopped, including some in Sweden. The authority and the trade union are very satisfied with the result. At the end of September, Sven Save, ombudsman for SEKO Seafarers and inspector for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF), received a text message from the crew of a Russian-flagged bulk carrier, Russa. It said that they had not received any wages and when the ship sailed in to Falkenberg, Sven was there. ”They were owed 15,560 euros in unpaid wages and there were no collective or employment contracts,” he says.The Swedish Transport Agency was informed and negotiations were started. One day later the situation was resolved with approved contracts and pay for the crew. Banning of the ship did not need to be enforced. ”If a ship is banned, it is registered with the Paris MoU. That does not look good if the ship is going to be chartered and carry a valuable cargo. If it is possible to reach an agreement without banning it is not seen anywhere, and that is why many parties work to resolve outstanding issues,” says Sven. The new convention, which regulates general terms and working conditions on board, came into force 20 August. The Paris MoU on Port State Control has made a summary of ships detained under the convention during the first month. According to the report seven ships were detained: two in Canada, one in Denmark, one in Russia and three in Spain. ”A good result,” says Jan Borgman, inspector and MLC expert at the Transport Agency.”These ships have been stopped despite the Port State asking us to go easy for the first year. The ILO has given all parties that ratified the convention ”a period of grace”. We are only supposed to take action if there are fundamental breaches of regulations, and the ships that have been banned recently have serious problems. Next year, when the inspections get tougher, there will probably be more ships banned.”
At the time of writing three MLC cases have been processed in Sweden, two of which led to banning. In all cases the issue was unpaid wages.
”For us the convention is a great relief,” says ITF coordinator and SEK ombudsman, Annica Barning. ”Before, we had to have a mandate from the crew to represent them. It may seem obvious that they would sign if they wanted to get their money, but it doesn’t work like that. Seafarers are often under pressure and are sometimes very afraid, too. Now, salaries that are not paid are a matter for the authorities and no signatures are needed.” Jan Borgman agrees that it has become much easier to tackle shipowners who do not follow the rules.”The MLC supports our actions in a completely new way if something has gone wrong. We can demand proof that the situation has been rectified before we release the ship, and on at least one occasion we have checked that wages have been paid into seafarers’ accounts,” he says. As a seasoned inspector, though, Jan Borgman remains on his guard regarding compliance with the convention.
”All rules have downsides. Those I imagine may come in the wake of the MLC are false payments or fudging the differences. But so far we have not noticed any cases like this.”