Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

FP6

MTCP — Result In Brief

Project ID: 506328
Funded under: FP6-SUSTDEV

Setting course for better labour standards on-board

A European study underlines the need for more robust and consistent inspection procedures to improve on-board conditions for maritime workers in the EU.
Setting course for better labour standards on-board
European researchers have carried out a study detailing how well maritime labour standards - as described in the relevant International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions - are enforced on board ships among EU Member States and selected associated states.

The work, carried out between 2004 and 2007 by the FP6 'Maritime transport coordination platform' (MTCP) project, was part of a series of reports aimed at delivering specifications, forecasts and decision-support tools to transport authorities and policy-makers.

'MTCP addresses the need to enhance the relevance of Europe's maritime research and education to matters of maritime policy related to sustainable surface transport,' according to a project statement. This, it continues, aims to support European competitiveness and to ensure safe, secure and efficient maritime transport operations.

The 22 project partners established a coordination platform providing relevant and reliable information to the European Commission and other decision makers responsible for energy, mobility and transport issues.

In just three years, the consortium produced 18 short policy relevant studies. It also set up the 'Maritime transport sector observatory' (MTSO) with the intention of making its expert knowledge and the results of the studies accessible to both the public and the Commission.

Of particular interest were the conclusions of the study on the enforcement of maritime labour standards, which revealed some of the strengths and weaknesses of inspection regimes in Europe.

The researchers performed a detailed literature review, taking in an array of statistical sources, as well as carrying out interviews with port state control officials and inspectors in Norway and eight EU and accession countries.

Procedures for inspections differed little across the sampled countries, according to the study. But differences were noted in the use of information systems for documenting and gathering data on berthing ships.

The researchers analysed several years of port state control data looking for trends in the labour standards on board. Inspections data indeed showed lowering standards in such basics as food provision and storage, water supply equipment, accommodation, and galley and sanitary conditions.

The team's own observational data revealed perhaps a different story. Assessment of on-board working conditions relies on a system of inspections and record-keeping. The team determined that the standard records, such as hours worked and rest time, don't always match real conditions on board because they can be falsified. They also suggested that existing regulations on work-rest hours and on safe crewing levels do not, in themselves, guarantee sufficient protection to seafarers against fatigue.

During the investigation, some inspectors reported that they found some of the standards difficult to implement due to ambiguities. Observational data also showed that inspectors could be inconsistent in practice and that better enforcement of the labour standards would provide greater incentives for ship operators to make needed improvements on board.

Some inspectors and operators, the study reveals, thought a move towards a more robust checklist-based approach to inspection (as used by the US Coastguard) would help to improve the working conditions of sailors in Europe.

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