It is not always easy for seafarers to assert their rights. The mere act of complaining (even on social media)could put them in disfavour with manning agents, ship masters, and others in authority. Reporting non-payment of wages and other abuses to the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) could get them blacklisted. But who will stand up for the rights of mariners if they themselves don’t? Here are 12 ways seafarers can help in the protection of their rights under national and international laws.
Know your rights under ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006.
MLC 2006 spells out the rights of seafarers, from wages and hours of work to shipboard accommodation and social security. A copy of the Convention for smartphones can be dowloaded for free from Marine Café Blog. Click here.
Don’t hesitate to bring to the ship master’s attention any violation of MLC 2006.
Seafarers have the right and even the moral obligation to file a complaint for violations of MLC 2006 — even if the complaint involves the ship master. MLC 2006 lays down the shipboard grievance procedures.
Treat your crewmates and other seafarers as your brothers, and always be ready to help one another.
There is strength in unity, in good times or bad. There will come a time when you will need the support of your fellow seafarers.
Familiarise yourself with the STCW and the specific training courses you need to undergo.
Many crewing agencies are in cahoots with training centres. They may tell you to enroll in a particular course even though it is not necessary.
Know where and how to seek help when you are on board your ship.
Aside from the ITF, there are several NGOs you can run to for help in case of problems on board. Seafarehelp.org, for one, has a free and confidential helpline for seafarers and their families which is availablle 24/7.
Deal only with reputable, licensed manning agencies.
A manning agency may have a licence to operate but has a bad record when it comes to payment of wages, etc. Ask around, especially from other seafarers, which ones are the better agencies.
NEVER give money to get a shipboard job.
It is illegal for any manning agency to collect fees from applicants. If any crewing manager asks for money, report the person to the company CEO or just transfer to another agency.
Do not deal with fixers to facilitate the processing of your documents.
Seafarers who pay extra for the “service” face the risk of being given fake certificates, which could put them in a lot of trouble.
Always seek a second medical opinion when the company doctor or medical clinic tells you that you need to undergo an operation.
This is common sense advice, especially given the fact that not all members of the medical profession are honourable. Some will resort to unethical means to make money from seafarers.
Keep yourself in good health.
Seafarers who claim for sickness or disability benefits are often given the runaround by manning agencies. They may have to hire a lawyer to get their hands on the money. The best thing to do is to try not to get sick in the first place and observe safety rules at all times.
Be careful in dealing with lawyers for money claims.
Stay away especially from ambulance chasers — that is, lawyers who actively seek out clients. Maritime lawyers usually accept cases on a no-cure-no-pay basis. But keep in mind that they will get a certain percentage of any moneys awarded (as much as 30% in some cases). Some may add on out-of-pocket expenses (court appearance fees, etc).
Learn to be assertive without being disrespectful.
Seafarers who are too compliant and subservient are more likely to be exploited than those who assert themselves and their rights.
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