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Strengthening of maritime labour standards

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Strengthening of maritime labour standards

The European Commission intends to consult the social partners on the question of how relevant provisions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Maritime Labour Standards, adopted in February 2006, should be incorporated into Community law.


Communication from the Commission of 15 June 2006 under Article 138(2) of the EC Treaty on the strengthening of maritime labour standards [COM(2006) 287 final ‒ Not published in the Official Journal].


The European Commission has actively supported the work of preparing the ILO Convention on Maritime Labour Standards. It considers implementation of that Convention to be essential not only at Community but also at national level.

Article 138(2) of the Treaty stipulates that before submitting social policy proposals the Commission should consult the social partners regarding the possible direction of Community action.

Field of application of the Convention

The Convention draws together a set of provisions aimed at guaranteeing decent living and working conditions on board vessels with a gross tonnage of 500 tonnes or more engaged in international voyages or sailing between foreign ports. The standards it contains address the following points:

  • minimum conditions required for recruitment;
  • employment conditions and workers’ rights;
  • accommodation on board;
  • social protection;
  • a definition of responsibilities regarding application of the Convention.

Benefits of the Convention

The primary objective of the ILO Convention is to consolidate the conventions and recommendations on maritime labour adopted by the ILO since 1919 into a single text of high legal and political standing. Furthermore, it makes use of innovative mechanisms to ensure that the instrument is fully effective.

The second objective of this Convention is to manage globalisation and guarantee fairer conditions of competition. This will help to stabilise the maritime transport sector in the face of global competition and normalise the status of seafarer in the context of globalisation. In fact, certain harmful effects, such as social dumping, penalise seamen and ship owners who comply with the rules in force.

The third objective is to improve maritime safety and the attractiveness of the profession. It is worth remembering that 80 % of maritime accidents are linked to human error. There should therefore be minimum social standards in a coherent framework. A review of training should also be carried out, since qualifications and working conditions are complementary.

Role of the EU

The Commission gave its full support to the preparatory work for the Convention from the outset, convinced of the importance of eliminating unfair competition and improving social standards at world level. It has played a dynamic role, providing added value during negotiations and guaranteeing compatibility between the text of the Convention and Community law. It has also coordinated the positions of the Member States and offered financial support.

The Commission is now endeavouring to encourage and to expedite ratification to ensure that the Convention enters into force as early as possible. The weight of the Union, with its 27 Member States, enables the process to be speeded up since the conditions laid down for the entry into force of the Convention call for 30 States accounting for at least 33 % of world tonnage.

In addition, the Commission is striving to develop and enhance Community standards by seeking to incorporate the most relevant provisions of the Convention into Community law.

For this first phase of consultation, the social partners are thus invited to make known their position on a number of issues connected with implementation of the Convention. Those issues, which will also be the subject of an impact assessment, are as follows:

  • the advisability of developing the existing Community acquis by adapting, consolidating or complementing it in accordance with certain guidelines;
  • the usefulness of going beyond the provisions of the Convention in Community law;
  • the relevance of making the non-compulsory part of the Convention binding;
  • the possible commitment of the social partners to negotiations aimed at reaching an agreement to be implemented by means of Council decision, in accordance with Article 139 of the Treaty.

Furthermore, the Commission is asking the social partners whether it is relevant for the Community’s tripartite structure to be reflected in the monitoring commission provided for by the Convention.


Now that the Convention has been adopted, the European Commission considers it essential to mobilise the necessary resources to implement it at both Community and national level. The Commission is seeking to assert EU values and interests and to promote high standards throughout the world.


Council Decision 2007/431/EC of 7 June 2007 authorising Member States to ratify, in the interests of the European Community, the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, of the International Labour Organization [Official Journal L 161 of 22.6.2007]. The Commission has exclusive competence as regards the coordination of social security schemes, but the Community cannot stand in place of the Member States when a convention is ratified. The Council Decision of 7 June 2007 allows the Member States to ratify the Convention, which comprises aspects connected with coordination of social security schemes.

Last updated: 10.01.2008