Following its ratification of the International Labour Organization’s 2006 Maritime Labour Convention in May, the Myanmar government is working to bring the country’s seafaring laws up to international standard.

On October 3 to 4, a seminar in Yangon involved representatives from the ILO, the government, seafarers unions and maritime employment agencies.

Once a country ratifies the Maritime Labour Convention, it has one year to implement its terms into domestic law. The purpose of this week’s seminar was to review Myanmar’s current maritime laws and determine what needs to be done to ensure the country complies with its obligations under the convention.

According to seafarers organisations, many ship workers are exploited by brokers, who profit at their expense, and are asked to pay large sums of money to ship owners in order to gain employment.

“Many seafarers are deceived or swindled by employment brokers. Some give up their labour rights and some are sent to work on unsafe ships. Now our country has ratified the MLC, our seafarers will be protected internationally from these unscrupulous practices,” said U Aung Kyaw Lin, general secretary of the Independent Federation of Myanmar Seafarers, the seminar’s organiser.

Tighter regulation of seafarer recruitment and placement services was highlighted as a key area for reform.

“Seafarers organisations and unions are very happy with the ratification of the MLC. It gives us greater negotiation power as now we can point to international standards which must be adhered to,” said U San Thein, president of the Myanmar Seafarer Federation.

He added that the Myanmar government must do more to monitor sub-standard recruiters who send workers to ships which have poor facilities, salaries, safety and protection, and ask for large sums of money to do so.

U Aung Kyaw Lin added that the government would also need to address a lack of employment opportunities for seafarers as well as taking action to ensure that they are paid adequate compensation when they are injured or killed.

“Our previous government neglected the affairs of Myanmar seafarers. In the past people who made claims to the International Transportation Federation [an international union] would be punished,” he added.

Independent Federation president U Zaw Aung lauded the ratification of the MLC, saying that it would lead to better wages and conditions for maritime workers.

Myanmar was the 75th country to ratify the MLC, which sets out a range of rights and protections for maritime workers as well as a strong compliance and enforcement mechanism based on signatory state inspection and certification of seafarers’ working and living conditions.