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A mariner gets his temperature checked after his ship arrives in port. Image via IMO

Sharp Drop in Labor Standards Reporting Seen as Latest ‘Casualty of the Pandemic’

Mike Schuler
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February 3, 2022

The shipping industry has seen a sharp drop-off in labor standards reporting, providing further evidence that seafarer wellbeing has been an unintended “casualty of the pandemic,” the International Chamber of Shipping said this week.

The assessment comes as ICS releases its annual Shipping Industry Flag State Performance Table, which is intended to encourage shipowners to maintain a dialogue with their Flag states, and help facilitate necessary improvements in the interests of safety, the environment and decent working conditions, among other issues.

This year’s Table highlights a drop in levels of reporting on the status of national ILO labour standards, including the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), underscoring the severe administrative pressures of the pandemic and the ongoing ‘crew change crisis’ on seafarers, governments and the industry alike, ICS says.

The Table’s criterion assessing flag states’ reporting on ILO labour standards, including the MLC, revealed a 6% decrease in Flag States successfully meeting their obligations.

The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, which compiled the report used by the ICS Table, noted that “there was a sharp decrease in the number of reports received by the deadline of 1 October this year in relation to previous years.” In total, of the 2,004 reports on labour standards requested by the ILO from governments in 2021, only 42.9% of these requests were granted. This is in comparison to a 70.7% rate of reporting received by the ILO the previous year.

The findings were an outlier against a generally strong performance across the board from most Flag States, on criteria such as Port State Control (PSC) records and ratification of international conventions. ICS noted that while this trend can be partly explained by administrative pressures brought about by COVID-19, it also serves as a reminder that the hardships suffered by the global workforce throughout this pandemic may not be at the forefront of national administrations’ minds.

“The pandemic has been a challenge for us all and one that Flag States have also had to weather,” says Guy Platten, ICS Secretary General. “However, the drop off in reporting against ILO Labour Standards, including the MLC, is further evidence that seafarer wellbeing has been an unintended casualty of the pandemic.”

“Hundreds of thousands of seafarers have been trapped on ships for many months beyond their scheduled tours of duty throughout the last two years. This report is a reminder that Flag States must keep seafarer wellbeing as a top priority,” Platten adds.

Among the 10 largest ship registers (by dead weight tonnage), covering more than 75% of the world fleet, none have more than two indicators of potentially negative performance, and five have no negative indicators at all.

The findings also suggest that distinctions between ‘traditional’ flags and open registers are no longer meaningful, with many open registers amongst the very top performers, alongside several European registers.

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