Maritime Labour Convention

The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) comes into force for the UK on 7 August 2014. It sets out the minimum working and living rights for seafarers.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has produced draft guidance for how employers and seafarers can prepare to meet the MLC.


The MLC doesn’t cover seafarers serving on the following boats:

  • ships navigating inland or sheltered waters subject to port regulations
  • fishing vessels
  • warships and naval auxiliaries
  • traditional ships, such as dhows

Minimum requirements

The MLC sets out minimum standards for seafarers to work on a ship, including:

  • minimum age
  • medical certification
  • training and qualifications


The minimum age for seafarers will be 16. Night workers have to be 18 or over.

Exceptions can be allowed for:

  • training purposes
  • where the seafarer’s duties require it, as long as their health and safety isn’t affected

Medical certification

All seafarers must have the right medical certificate to work at sea before they can work on ships.

Training and qualifications

Under the MLC, seafarers will need to:

Find out more about seafarer training and qualifications on the MCA website.

Conditions of employment

Under the MLC, seafarers will have minimum working rights covering:

  • employment agreements
  • wages
  • hours of rest
  • entitlement to leave
  • repatriation
  • compensation for a ship’s loss or foundering
  • manning levels
  • career and skills development
  • employment opportunities

Employment contracts

The convention makes sure contracts between seafarers and shipowner provide fair living and working conditions.

Contracts should be in English and include:

  • shipowner’s name and address
  • seafarer’s name, date and place of birth
  • place and date where agreement signed
  • conditions for the termination of agreement
  • health and social security protection benefits provided by shipowner
  • seafarer’s right to repatriation

Seafarers must also be:

  • allowed to read and consider contracts before signing them
  • given a record of their employment
  • given their own copy of their contract (the shipowner should also have a copy)


Under the MLC, seafarers’ wages will be:

  • paid regularly, ie monthly
  • include monthly statements of accounts
  • allow seafarers to transfer part or all of their wages
  • keep currency conversion charges to reasonable limits

Hours of rest

Hours of rest must be at least:

  • 10 hours in any 24 hour period
  • 77 hours in any 7 day period

Crew exercises, eg lifeboat drills, must cause minimal disruption to rest periods. Seafarers called out in a rest period are entitled to a rest period to make up for it.

Holiday pay

Under the MLC, seafarers will be entitled to paid leave calculated at 2.5 days per calendar month of employment.

Read more about holiday pay for seafarers in the Merchant Shipping Regulations 2002.


This gives seafarers the right to be returned to their home country:

  • when their employment contract ends or is cancelled
  • when they’re no longer able to carry out their duties
  • in the event of shipwreck
  • if their ship is bound for a war zone they haven’t agreed to go to

Shipowners cannot request advance payment for repatriation from seafarers. If a shipowner doesn’t make repatriation arrangements, seafarers on UK ships can be repatriated by the MCA.

Accommodation and recreational facilities

The Maritime and Labour Convention (MLC) will make sure seafarers have access to decent accommodation and recreational facilities when living on ships.

Medical care

These will cover seafarers’ rights to:

  • decent on board health protection facilities, including essential dental care
  • the right to visit qualified medical personnel while in port
  • access to a qualified medical doctor on ships carrying more than 100 people on international voyages lasting more than 3 days
  • where there is no doctor on board, there must be designated and able seafarer(s) to provide first aid and medical care

Shipowner’s liabilities

Under the MLC, if a seafarer suffers accident or disability because of their work the shipowner must provide where necessary:

  • assistance and medical care
  • repatriation
  • burial or cremation, if they die

The shipowner must have financial cover in case they are liable for compensation for long-term disability or illness.

A shipowner is not liable when an injury is not related to a seafarer’s duties, when it’s caused by wilful misconduct or when a seafarer intentionally hides an illness or disability.

Health and safety protection

Under the MLC, seafarers’ work environments on ships must:

  • have regular risk assessments of workplace hazards, eg from machinery
  • take steps to prevent work accidents
  • have a system for reporting accidents and occupational diseases


Under the MLC, the MCA can withdraw a ship’s maritime labour certificate if seafarer living and working conditions are breached.


Seafarers can complain if the MLC hasn’t been followed. On board a ship seafarers can complain to a manager. On shore seafarers can complain to an MCA surveyor.