The best protection is to know your rights
SEAFARERS the world over should know their rights and claim them in order to benefit from the minimum working conditions provided for by international conventions. That's the message from the senior maritime consultant at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Dani Appave, as the shipping industry prepares for the entry into force of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 which is expected to be at the end of next year. "One of the most important ways a seafarer can protect himself is to know what he is entitled to and what is expected from him," says Dani, who has been working at the ILO since 1985. "The Maritime Labour Convention is an important piece of legislation which sets out the minimum conditions men and women who go to sea can expect from their employer. A lot of seafarers are already enjoying the benefits laid out in the convention because many shipowners already provide superior conditions of work for their crew. Seafarers who enjoy their time at sea are more efficient and more likely to have long careers," he says. An exciting career at sea is something that Dani enjoyed, having, at 16 years old, left his island home of Mauritius and begun a cadetship with a local shipping company. "Initially I never considered a career as a seafarer," confesses Dani, speaking to me in London from his office in Geneva. "I had always been more interested in marine biology - the wonders of the deep - and enjoyed studying biology at school because of it. However, I would often watch ships going in and out of Port Louis and was fascinated by the activity of the port.
"Over time, my love of the ships increased, so much so that the harbourmaster would let me ride out on the pilot vessel every Sunday morning to watch the pilot climb aboard the cargo ships and take them into port. It was an early introduction to the industry and when I turned sixteen I applied to several companies. One in particular, Mauritius Steam Navigation, accepted me immediately and three days later I joined my first ship and began travelling the world on general cargo vessels."
Such a career during the heyday of the shipping industry must have been very exciting for the young Dani.
Dani Appave, a former seafarer and now with the International Labour Organisation, talks to Ben Bailey about his early life at sea and the Maritime Labour Convention 2006
He fondly recalls large crews, big cabins, ship stewards and the length of time spent in port which allowed him and his fellow seafarers to explore the countries they visited.
"The first port I remember visiting was the Port of London where we delivered sugar to the docks in Dagenham. It was as much fun visiting large European city centre ports as small anchorages off tropical islands such as in Indonesia. We would routinely spend a few days in port while the ship was unloaded or loaded. Life for the modern seafarer is definitely tougher than it was when I first went to sea," says Dani.
In the early 1980 s Dani was about to embark on a career ashore at a time when the industry was going through a massive period of change. As a consequence, he says, seafarers started to change their working patterns, working shorter tours of duty "in order to get more periods of leave.
"Today the industry doesn't offer any other incentive to become a seafarer apart from working on a ship," he says. "When I was at sea we had time to see the world. But with turnaround times being what they are now, there just isn't the time to visit capital cities or make lasting relationships at the seafarers' centres as there was then. Seafarers work so intensively nowadays that it's difficult for people who have never been to sea to understand just how difficult it is. If you are employed in a land-based occupation, you can expect to have at least one day off a week. You can go home at the end of the day and socialise with your family and friends. But seafarers don't have that opportunity."
It was a strong interest in these employment issues and other areas affecting seafarers' lives which led Dani to leave the sea and complete a degree at the department of maritime affairs at the University of Wales in Cardiff. For three years he supported himself by working at sea every summer and then continuing his studies during the winter months. It was while he was at university that one of his lecturers asked him if he would like to work on a UN-led port management training project.
"From there I applied for a job at the ILO and I've been here ever since, working for the maritime sector including shipping, fishing, ports and inland waterways.
"My previous experience as a seafarer has certainly helped me working here," says Dani. "The first convention I worked on was the seafarers' welfare convention and following that I've worked on legislation regarding recruitment, and hours of work. Being a former seafarer has helped me and others shape the regulations so that they are beneficial for the whole of the industry. Knowing first-hand what life at sea is really like is very useful when you're trying to put it on paper."
"Similarly my experience with port management training at the UN was a fascinating insight which helped me contribute to a similar training programme in the ILO called the Port Worker Development Programme, which is now active in around 60 countries."
Most recently, Dani has been involved in the MLC 2006 - a convention which has been called by many within the industry the "super convention" as it brings together existing and new provisions covering wide-ranging aspects of the conditions of work of seafarers.
"The best of the MLC is that it provides for ships to be inspected, not only by the flag
state but also by port states. This is good for seafarers because it ensures the verification of proper implementation of appropriate conditions of work on a continuous basis. Awareness of the existing conventions has increased as a result of the promotion of the MLC. An example is the increased effectiveness of existing hours of work limits. A higher number of detentions of vessels for breach of crew-hours-of-work rules are being reported. This is sending the right message to the industry," he says.
"The MLC will enter into force at the end of 2011. The best protection, however, that seafarers can give themselves is to know what is expected of them and what they can expect from their employer. They should also know what recourse is available in case of breaches of the convention. Knowledge is power. I would urge any seafarer wanting to read the MLC 2006 in full to visit the ILO website and download it, or to write to the ILO to ask for a copy. We have in the MLC a set of provisions – many of are already being implemented - that will help all seafarers enjoy at least the minimum decent conditions enshrined in the convention”.
( “ The Sea”, Issue Sep/Oct., 2010 )