Seafarer 2050 Summit

Keynote address at the Shaping the Future of Shipping – Seafarer 2050 Summit

ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo highlighted at the Shaping the Future of Shipping – Seafarer 2050 Summit the need for a new global social contract, including for the global maritime industry.

Statement | Manila, Philippines | 26 June 2023
ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo delivers his keynote address at the Shaping the Future of Shipping – Seafarer 2050 Summit. ©ILO/G. Carreon, June 2023
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s a pleasure to be able to speak to you today. Particularly since this country is one of the most important providers of seafarers.

You are meeting at a time when the world is confronted with multiple and overlapping crises. Among them, the rising cost of living, the devastating effects of climate change, conflicts and geo-political tensions, and a looming global debt crisis.

All these have consequences for the shipping industry.

So let me commend the ICS, ITF and IMEC for taking the initiative and convening this Conference. It is important that we deal head-on with the challenges facing both seafarers and the shipping industry, and work together to design strategies to meet them.

We must create a future for the industry that is safe, that is equitable and that is human-centred.

Earlier this month, I presented my first report as Director-General to the International Labour Conference, the annual meeting of the ILO’s membership.

In it I said that the world has reached a critical juncture, with persistent injustices, widespread labour market insecurity, and growing income inequality.

Discrimination also continues to affect women and marginalized groups, worldwide.

We must not allow this to continue. But if we are to change course, we need to rethink our priorities, so that our policies focus on social justice.

In other words – we need a new social contract.

We must work together to foster the greater multilateral cooperation and policy coherence that will be essential if we are to achieve this shift.

During the ILC I was greatly encouraged by the widespread support for this initiative.

So, let me now share some thoughts about the challenges we face.

Firstly, a new social contract has to be based on social dialogue.

This requires strong, independent workers’ and employers’ organizations that function freely and really represent the interests of their members.

This means that a new social contract in the maritime sector will require input from both shipowners’ and seafarers’ organizations. They are best placed to know the most urgent challenges, and the options to address them.

At international level, the excellent cooperation and social dialogue developed by the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation creates a solid basis for future work.

Indeed, seafarers’ and shipowners’ organizations have shown the world what can be achieved by working together, by accepting different points of view while looking for areas of common interest. Your industry’s response during the COVID-19 pandemic is just one example of this.

In this regard, I welcome the initiative taken by His Excellency, President Marcos, to set up the International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs.

This Committee brings together the Government of the Philippines with international and regional organizations representing seafarers, shipowners and other maritime employers. Consequently, it will be well-placed to play a significant role in resolving issues that affect Filipino seafarers.

The second element of a new social contract for the maritime sector is rights. It must be fundamental that all parties put seafarers and seafarers’ rights at the heart of any shipping strategy.

The humanitarian crisis faced by seafarers during the pandemic highlighted the need for this. Hundreds of thousands of seafarers were stuck at sea, far beyond the duration of their original contracts.

Among other things, they were denied shore leave and access to medical care ashore. There were numerous cases of unpaid wages. There has also been a drastic increase in cases of abandonment in recent years.

And as we speak, we know that there are seafarers still stuck in the context of the war in Ukraine.

This alarming situation is concrete evidence of seafarers’ vulnerability, and it must be met with definitive remedial action.

I am pleased that my colleague, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, shares my concern for seafarers’ as well. We are both committed to increasing cooperation between IMO and ILO in this context. This will help to ensure that seafarers are treated fairly and receive the attention they deserve.

A key tool in ensuring that rights are respected must be the ILO Maritime Labour Convention.

This landmark instrument aims to ensure decent working and living conditions for seafarers as well as a level-playing field for shipowners.

The new social contract must help to secure the universal ratification and full enforcement of the MLC, world-wide.
This can also include greater application of existing IMO mechanisms and standards.

In this regard, we have started discussions on the possible inclusion of a mandatory training on the MLC for all seafarers, as part of the revision of the STCW Convention. We are also exploring how the ISM code could be more effectively aligned with the MLC.

In addition to a renewed commitment to seafarers’ rights, we also need to look closely at how we can be more effective at attracting young seafarers to the sector, and in retaining existing, experienced, staff.

This strategy must include a recognition of the importance of women’s participation in shipping, and the measures needed to ensure they feel safe on board.

This strategy will also include a thorough examination of the issue of fatigue, including how it can be mitigated. This is directly linked to issues of minimum manning, long working hours and the extended periods that seafarers spend at sea, away from home and with limited communications.

Third, a new social contract for the maritime sector must take into account the consequences of climate change.

We must ensure that the changes needed to cut greenhouse gasses and protect the marine environment are achieved through a ‘just transition’.

Help to achieve this is already available, in the ILO’s Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all.

For example, a ‘just transition’ must recognize the impact on seafarers. And it must address the need to train or retrain them to use new fuels and equipment safely and correctly.

I know that shipowners, seafarers and their organizations, are taking this matter very seriously, both at national and international levels. And they are using social dialogue to ensure that the industry, training institutions and seafarers respond proactively.

Finally, a new social contract must ensure a human-centred approach to the use of new technologies. It must ensure that artificial intelligence, automation and digitalization improve seafarers’ lives and working conditions, rather than making them worse.

Dear colleagues,

The maritime industry benefits from strong seafarers’, shipowners’ and other employers’ organizations. This gives me confidence that it can rise to today’s challenges and ensure that seafarers receive the protection they deserve. That will allow them to continue to perform their essential role, keeping global trade flowing and people moving.

Please be assured that you can continue to count on the ILO, and on my personal commitment, in your efforts to bring decent work and social justice to this critical sector.

Thank you.