Ensuring EU countries comply with and enforce the Maritime Labour Convention

This European Union directive defines the responsibilities of flag states (countries where ships are registered) for enforcing the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) agreed in 2006 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Directive 2013/54/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 concerning certain flag state responsibilities for compliance with and enforcement of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006

The directive seeks to ensure that EU countries fulfil their obligations as flag states with respect to the implementation, by ships flying their flag, of relevant parts of Directive 2009/13/EC, which incorporated into EU law an important part of MLC 2006.

MLC 2006 sets out minimum global standards to ensure the right of all seafarers to decent living and working conditions, irrespective of their nationality and irrespective of the flag of the ships on which they serve. It also seeks to limit social dumping to secure fair competition for ship owners who respect seafarers’ rights.

The main points of the new directive are as follows.

1  Monitoring of compliance

EU countries have to introduce effective and appropriate enforcement and monitoring mechanisms, including inspections at specific intervals to ensure that seafarers’ living and working conditions on ships flying their flag meet, and continue to meet, the requirements of MLC 2006.

These mechanisms may be adapted to take account of the specific conditions relating to ships of less than 200 gross tonnes not involved in international voyages. While remaining fully responsible for the inspection, EU countries may authorise organisations with specific expertise in the field (recognised organisations) to carry out such inspections.

2.  Inspectors

Personnel authorised to carry out inspections and in charge of verifying the proper implementation must have the professional competence and independence necessary.

Where MLC 2006 standards are not being met, inspectors may prohibit a ship from leaving port until necessary actions are taken.

3. Complaint procedures

Each EU country must ensure that appropriate on-board complaint procedures are in place. Personnel dealing with, or who become aware of, complaints must treat the source of any grievance or complaint as confidential.

The responsibilities of port states for the enforcement of MLC 2006 are covered by Directive 2013/38/EU adopted in 2013.


Directive 2013/54/EU

Council Directive 2009/13/EC of 16 February 2009 implementing the Agreement concluded by the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) on the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and amending Directive 1999/63/EC (Official Journal L 124 of 20 May 2009).

Directive 2013/38/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 August 2013 amending Directive 2009/16/EC on port State control (Official Journal L 218 of 14 August 2013).


Seafarers’ working time

Directive 1999/63/EC — Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers

It puts into legislation the seafarers’* working time agreement reached between the European Community Shipowners’* Association and the Federation of Transport Workers’ Unions on 30 September 1998.

It takes account of the International Labour Organisation’s Maritime Labour Convention in regard to seafarers’ hours.


Every publicly or privately owned seagoing ship registered in a European Union (EU) country carrying out commercial maritime activities must respect the legislation.
The directive specifies a maximum number of working hours* or a minimum amount of rest time* over a given period.

Working hours must respect that:
a standard working day is 8 hours, with 1 day off and rest on public holidays;
maximum working hours must not exceed 14 in any 24-hour period or 72 over 7 days.

Rest periods:
must not be less than 10 in any 24-hour period, or 77 over 7 days;
may be divided into no more than 2 periods, one of which must be at least 6 hours;
must occur within at least 14 hours of each other;
must be disturbed as little as possible by safety exercises such as musters and fire-fighting and lifeboat drills;
must include adequate compensation for resting seafarers called out to work.

Ship masters have the right to require crew work to ensure the immediate safety of the vessel, its persons, cargo and others in distress.
Details of on-board working arrangements and the legislation’s provisions must be accessible and displayed.

Records must be kept of seafarers’ daily work and rest hours.
Manning levels must avoid or minimise excessive working hours to ensure sufficient rest and limit fatigue.

No seafarer under 18 may work at night*, although some exemptions are allowed.
No one under 16 may work on a ship.

Every seafarer:
must have a health certificate proving they are medically fit to work at sea. Some exceptions are permitted.
is entitled to annual paid leave. This is based on a minimum of 2.5 days per month worked and pro rata for incomplete months.

EU countries may:
permit exemptions to the specified working hours and rest periods, under certain conditions;
apply more, but not less, favourable conditions to seafarers than those contained in the directive.
The rules complement separate legislation on working hours on board ships using EU ports.

It has applied since 22 July 1999. EU countries had to incorporate it into national law by 30 June 2002.


The specific nature of the marine sector means that it is not covered by Directive 2003/88/EC on the organisation of working time and thus requires its own rules.

Seafarer: someone employed in any capacity aboard a seagoing ship.

Shipowner: owner of the ship or any other organisation or person assuming that responsibility.

Working hours: time during which a seafarer works on a ship.

Rest time: time outside working hours, but not including short breaks.

Night: at least 9 hours, including midnight to 5 am.


Council Directive 1999/63/EC of 21 June 1999 concerning the Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers concluded by the European Community Shipowners’ Association (ECSA) and the Federation of Transport Workers’ Unions in the European Union (FST) — Annex: European Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers (OJ L 167, 2.7.1999, pp. 33-37)

Successive amendments to Directive 1999/63/EC have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

Working hours on board ships using EU ports

This Directive aims to protect the health and safety of seafarers on board ships using European Union (EU) ports, combat distortions of competition from shipowners of non-EU countries and protect the health and safety of seafarers on board ships using EU ports.

It aims to provide procedures to verify and enforce the compliance of ships calling at ports of EU countries with Directive 1999/63/EC (subsequently amended by Directive 2009/13/EC), which outlines working time rules for seafarers, including hours, rest, paid leave and fitness for work.


EU countries, through designated Port State Control inspectors, carry out inspections on board sea-going vessels calling at their ports, irrespective of the country in which they are registered. Fishing vessels are not covered by the Directive.

Inspections occur notably after a complaint is received by the master, a crew member, or any person or organisation with a legitimate interest in the safe operation of the ship, shipboard living and working conditions or the prevention of pollution.

Inspections determine whether:
— a table with the shipboard working arrangements is posted in an easily accessible place.
— records of hours of work and rest periods are kept on board, and are endorsed by the competent authority of the country where the ship is registered.

If it appears that seafarers may be unduly fatigued, a more detailed inspection is conducted to determine whether the recorded working hours conform with regulations, and whether they have been observed.
— To rectify any conditions which are clearly hazardous to safety or health, the EU country may prohibit the ship from leaving the port until deficiencies have been rectified or the crew is rested.
— If a ship is prevented from leaving the port, the master, owner, or an official of the flag country, country of registration or diplomatic representative will be informed of the decision, and of any corrective actions required.

If a ship is unduly delayed, the owner is entitled to compensation for any loss or damage suffered, the burden of proof being with the ship’s owner, who also has the right of appeal against detention.

It came into force on 20 January 2000.

For further information see the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 on the International Labour Organization’s website.


Directive 1999/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 1999 concerning the enforcement of provisions in respect of seafarers’ hours of work on board ships calling at Community ports.

Directive 1999/95/EC

Council Directive 2009/13/EC of 16 February 2009 implementing the Agreement concluded by the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) on the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and amending Directive 1999/63/EC (OJ L 124, 20.5.2009, pp. 30-50).

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