The Maritime Labour Convention 2006: The seafarer and the fisher

Luci Carey


The perils of working at sea have been recognised for hundreds of years. Seafarers and fishers spend their working lives at risk of serious injury or death. The Seafarers International Research Centre found that workplace fatalities are 11 times more likely for seafarers than workers ashore. Aside from the physical dangers, the isolated workplace leaves seafarers and fishers vulnerable to severe exploitation and abuse. Without seafarers sailing the ships that carry 90% of ‘everything’, the world’s economy would grind to a halt. Yet, to most of us, they remain invisible.

This article considers the particular issues confronting seafarers and fishers through the prism of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC, 2006) and the Work in Fishing Convention 2007 (WIFC, 2007). The Conventions share many similarities and are intended to complement each other in order to improve the living and working conditions of those who work at sea. The MLC has been enthusiastically welcomed and adopted by more than 81 countries representing 91% of the world’s gross tonnage of ships, meanwhile the WIFC, 2007 has only recently achieved the required number of ratifications and will enter into force in November 2017.

The paper finds that the MLC is useful and making a real difference. It argues that the legal protection of fishers globally is, in contrast, virtually non-existent. The fishing industry is plagued by criminality and thousands of fishers are trapped in forced labour but the international community remains silent. The adoption of the WIFC, 2007 is to be welcomed. However, in isolation the WIFC, 2007 will do little to alleviate the conditions of the many enslaved fishers. who can only hope for a concerted global response to combat slavery at sea.


Maritime Labour Convention 2006; Work in Fishing Convention 2007; Seafarers; Fishers;

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