United Nations photo Some rights reserved

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). is the foundational document for all human rights laws, including ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. Any discussion on the rights of seafarers and other maritime workers must hark back to it.
So how has the shipping world fared in observing its tenets?

Not so well, to be honest. Of the 30 articles contained in the UDHR, six stand out as the most commonly breached by those who disregard the rights of seafarers, dock workers and others of their kind. Anyone who says a great deal of progress has been made to advance maritime rights is either misinformed or deluded.

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

How can seafarers be equal in “dignity and rights” when they are treated like commodities? Take the case of Darya Wood, the 22-year-old  engineer cadet whose body was kept in the ship’s refrigerator after a fatal accident while the vessel continued to sail merrily for 17 days. The commodification of seafarers goes on in a myriad of ways.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

In Manila, manning agencies and some unions use cadets as unpaid office workers and domestic servants with the promise of deploying them as apprentice officers. This is a form of slavery. Not only are the cadets under great pressure to fulfill the 12-month shipboard apprenticeship, which is a prerequisite  for graduation. Many of them  have to work their ass off for months on end before they get the chance to sail.

Article 20

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

There have been many cases in history of port operators preventing dock workers from forming unions or suppressing lawful strikes. It is a problem that stevedores around the world are still facing.

Article 23

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Poor shipboard accommodations and substandard crew wages are common breaches of ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and the UDHR. Those who report abuses to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) are bound to be blacklisted. Equal pay for equal work? Tell that to the marines.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Denial of shore leave in foreign ports, poor Internet connection on board, and absence of paid annual leave are not uncommon. They all go against a seafarer’s right to rest and leisure.

NOTE: The full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be downloaded here. Learn more about the UDHR and how it came about in this Britannica article: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Universal-Declaration-of-Human-Rights

~ Barista Uno

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