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Rules of the Road: Under MLC, crew have right to a complaint procedure

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Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake Desvergers

The Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) provides seafarers with an extensive right of complaint. Seafarers are entitled to complain about any violation regarding working and living conditions on board.

Complaints should initially be addressed to the superior on board. If the complaint is not resolved, the seafarer can refer it to the captain or to the owner. In addition, all seafarers are entitled to file a complaint directly with the competent flag state authority.

Each flag state has established guidance for the development of procedures that allow crew to submit a complaint. Using the United Kingdom’s MSN 1849 as an example, we note that Regulation 13 of the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labor Convention) (Survey and Certification) Regulations 2013 implements this requirement into British law. To comply with Regulation 13 and the Convention, owners are required to put in place on board their yachts a complaints procedure for the fair, effective and expeditious handling of seafarers’ complaints alleging breaches of the MLC. This includes seafarers’ rights.

The on-board complaints procedure must seek to resolve complaints at the lowest level possible. However, in all cases, seafarers must be given the right to complain directly to the captain. Where they consider it necessary, the seafarer also has the right to complain directly to the flag administration. The Convention also gives seafarers the right to refer a complaint to port State authorities.

The provision for and application of an on-board complaints procedure do not prejudice a seafarer’s right to seek redress through whichever legal means the seafarer considers appropriate. In all cases, whether these procedures are used, a seafarer is entitled to take legal advice from advisers such as seafarers’ representatives or a lawyer.

When undertaking MLC inspections, flag-state surveyors will check the on-board complaints procedure for compliance with the regulations and this notice. In addition, surveyors will look for documentary evidence that any complaints made by seafarers have been followed up and resolved in accordance with the procedure.

The procedure must include safeguards against the possibility of seafarers and their representatives being subjected to any detriment because of making complaints. “Detriment” covers any adverse effect on a seafarer because of having made a complaint that is not wrongly created or maliciously made.

All seafarers are to be provided with a copy of the on-board complaints procedure applicable on the ship. The procedure shall also include contact information for the flag administration (as the certifying authority for the ship), for all the national authorities for the seafarer’s country of residence for any seafarers working on board, and the name of the person (or persons) on board the yacht who can provide confidential, impartial advice on their complaint and generally assist them in following the complaint procedure.

In the unfortunate instance when the complaint remains unresolved and the flag administration must be contacted, do so with a level of formality, professionalism, and accuracy. The flag administration will have a procedure that must be followed and a specific point of contact. If there is not a specific form to complete, you will need to submit the following information:

Name of the yacht

Owner’s address and contact info

Name and contact info for the captain

Details of the complaint

Action taken to date to resolve the complaint

When submitting a complaint to the flag administration, it is important to remember that there is a process to be followed. Do not expect instantaneous action or immediate results. As with any report, the accusation must be investigated. This will involve a review of the receiving complaint and subsequent interview/research with the accused party.

In my experience with crew complaints, the clear majority of reports deal with wage disputes. Thankfully, an estimated 95 percent are eventually resolved. Only in rare cases is further involvement by the flag administration and/or justice system required.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (www.yachtbureau.org). 

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