Union struggle is responsible for Brazilian seafarers having reached a level well above the MLC-2006
The Maritime Labor Convention (MLC 2006) effectively proposes to combat extremely unfair, degrading and even exploitable working conditions to which many shipowners subject crew members from low-cost countries on flags of convenience. It is a criminal practice that seeks to obtain undue competitive advantage in the provision of maritime transport services in a globalized and difficult-to-enforce international environment.
Care must be taken with some statements seen in the media about work in the maritime sector in Brazil. Contrary to what some recent features suggest, the ratification of this Convention will neither have the power to bring more security to the labor relations of Brazilian seafarers nor to provide any advance in the working conditions currently practiced in national waters.
The MLC 2006, as a rule, does not offer any news to seafarers who already work in good conditions, protected by well-formulated national labor laws and supported by collective agreements negotiated fairly with those who employ them.
We can give some practical examples. The limit of hours of work set up in the MLC can reach 14 hours in a period of 24 hours and 72 hours in a period of 7 days. This is an absurdly high number of hours, far from making it possible to work in balanced conditions. The legislation applied to those who work ashore – in Brazil as well as in other countries that do not allow unfair exploitation of labor – offers minimum guarantees that are much more favorable to the worker.
On ships – it is important to remember – every day is a working day. The vessel does not stop operating because it is weekend or a holiday. Researches have pointed out that excessive work on board, without the possibility of adequate rest and recovery, contributes to the increase in cases of fatigue, anxiety, depression and even suicide among seafarers.
See article “Long periods on board may lead seafarers to depression and even suicide” featured in Unificar 53:
The granting of paid leave ashore for a period equal to the time aboard, on the other hand, has shown to be essential for workers to remain mentally healthy and free from fatigue. Brazilian seafarers are an example that this is possible. The paid leave guaranteed by the MLC 2006, however, is only of 2.5 days per month worked, that is, 30 days of paid time off in one year of work aboard. Such low relation between work at sea and the necessary paid leave ashore only confirms that the MLC seeks to ban inhumane practices that still exist in a few flags and regions of the globe.
In order to avoid any confusion that may arise about the possibility of shipowners granting constitutional vacations and paid leave ashore, which have different definitions under Brazilian law, it is not too much to mention that the terms “leave” and “congé”, in English and French, respectively, the official languages of the ILO and its Convention, mean break or leave of any sort, including paid leave or vacation.
There is no provision in the MLC 2006 that obliges the shipowner to offer boarding regimes that favor an adequate social and family life, as is the case with the 1×1 regime applied to Brazilian seafarers working in national waters. There is also no requirement that the time ashore – if it exceeds 30 days a year – be paid. Under Brazilian law, it is important to emphasize that there is neither, nor has there ever been, such a provision. We highlight this to make it clear that it is not due to any legal obligation imposed on companies that there is a fairer maritime labor regime in Brazilian waters.
The embarking regime for Brazilian seafarers is the result of the collective struggle of a union organization that, historically, has known how to value the work of its members, demanding from shipowners a fair remuneration, which remains registered in hundreds of collective labor agreements. It is also true that the existence of maritime unionists who act in a serious and honest manner – placing the collective demands of the seafarers they represent in the first place – was and continues to be an essential factor for the achievements of Brazilian seafarers.
The principles of decent work that guided the elaboration of the MLC 2006, and which were clearly recorded in its articles, include the abolition of child labor, the end of forced or compulsory labor on board and the elimination of discrimination related to employment and occupation, as well as the freedom of association of seafarers and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.
It is also important to highlight that the MLC 2006 is not a definitive consolidation, closed in itself. On the contrary, its periodic review is scheduled and has been occurring regularly every two years. As the Convention established the minimum acceptable – so that slavery at sea would not be configured – its text needs constant improvement. Although in many countries the MLC does not offer any advantage to seafarers, it represents an extraordinary milestone of improvement in the face of the low labor practices that exist, notably, but not only, in Asian waters.
In the last century, Brazil ratified most of the ILO’s maritime conventions, which were revised and consolidated in the MLC 2006. In order to maintain legal security, it has become necessary to replace the old conventions that are being canceled in the ILO by the consolidated and expanded text. This is the real reason why Brazil needed to ratify the MLC 2006. The ratification by Brazil must in no way be confused, as suggested by some unsuspecting or malicious people, with an obligation to practice the minimum conditions established in the MLC 2006.
Right in its preamble, the Convention leaves no doubt on this issue, by recording that the adoption of a convention or recommendation by the ILO conference, or its ratification by a member state, should in no case be a reason to affect any law, award, custom or agreement that assures more favorable conditions for workers. Even so, what in fact can guarantee Brazilian officials and electricians to continue working in good conditions and receiving fair remuneration in their own national waters will undoubtedly be, once more, the willingness to fight collectively to accomplish relevant achievements, organized in Sindmar.
Together we are stronger!
President of Sindmar
Union Education and Communication Director at Conttmaf
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