Background for MLC 2006

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted the Maritime Labour Convention in 2006 (hereinafter referred to as MLC, 2006). MLC 2006 is intended to establish the rights and safety of the more than 1.2 million seafarers in the world. The convention does this by updating the many international laws and standards in the maritime sector, some of which are more than 80 years old.

Before MLC 2006, there were many conventions, laws and standards that had not been ratified. States interpreted the conventions differently and the rules for shipowners and seafarers differed from country to country. When various seafarers' organizations, shipowners and governments started working together in 2001, it was with the aim of creating a tool that could be used globally, irrespective of flag. This tool was intended to cover all present requirements for seafarers' working conditions. It would give seafarers some clear, standardized rights while ensuring uniform competitive conditions for shipowners operating quality shipping. This is to be achieved by the general standards included in the convention which can be applied everywhere in global shipping. The result of this process is the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006).

MLC 2006’s role in the overall picture

MLC 2006 contains various minimum rules with respect to for example hours of rest, length of tours of duty, the right to repatriation, medical help, welfare and occupational health, and for wages to be paid monthly. MLC 2006 also includes requirements for seafarers to have schemes providing for them financially with pensions, maternity/paternity leave and in the event of sickness, industrial injury, etc. Even though this might already be standard on many Danish and EU ships in general, it is a major step for many ships outside the EU. MLC, 2006 contains no requirements for wages, holidays, etc. – it just raises the starting point for minimum standards and rights.

In the international maritime regulation framework, MCL 2006 will become the fourth element in addition to STCW, SOLAS and MARPOL having been adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The aim of these four elements is to cover all aspects of maritime regulation.

In the first 16 Articles, the MLC 2006 outlines the obligations and principles involved. The rest of the convention deals with the standards and guidelines being incorporated in five areas:


The EU is undertaking ratification of the MLC 2006 convention for EU member states where there are already mutual agreements or cooperations in unions and between the countries. Denmark has ratified many of the regulations via this route. The bills can be read in their entirety here (in Danish).

In the convention, it is only the regulations and standards that require ratification, making them the only parts to be complied with. The guidelines in the convention thus only serve as guidelines when a member state is implementing the regulations and standards. They indicate how the convention can be used and the methods that can be used in drawing up regulations.

Two criteria have to be met for the convention to take effect:

  • 33% of world tonnage must have signed up to the convention, and
  • 30 member states must have ratified the convention

As shown in the figure, the requirement for world tonnage has been met since ratification has already reached 58,5%. However, only 28 states have signed up to the convention, which means that this requirement has not been fulfilled.

There are various assessments of when we can expect both criteria to have been met. The most recent indications from ILO are that the remaining eight countries will ratify the convention before year-end 2012 and that all requirements will therefore be met before the New Year.

When the requirements have been met, another twelve months will have to pass before the convention takes effect. Even though Denmark has ratified the convention, it still means that the convention only becomes effective twelve months after the abovementioned requirements have been met.


In Denmark, we generally have good working conditions and good social security. Ratification of MLC 2006 does not mean any major changes for Danish shipping. However, the convention will have an impact since it means that sub-standard shipowners and any seafarer, sailing under flags of convenience, internationally will have to raise their game. In this way, the competitiveness of Danish ships will be boosted.

If a Flag State decides not to ratify the convention, they will still have to comply with the requirements in the convention if their ships enter the waters of another country that has ratified the convention. This is the principle of ”no more favourable treatment.”

Overall, it basically means that Danish shipping will profit from high standards for shipping being applied globally.