The national employment structure of seafarers, built up since the 17th century, is being confronted with the Community structure and, even more, with the internationalisation of maritime labour resulting from the practice of vessels’ being registered in whichever country the shipowner sees fit. This is resulting in a deconstruction, which could give rise to a reconstruction within the framework of the European Union.
The deconstruction has occurred, in particular, through the adaptation of the registration of ships in the member states of the European Union to international competition and the creation of international and offshore registers. The harmonisation of these new registers is conceivable on the grounds of fair competition, maritime safety, and the maintenance of maritime jurisdictions.
The regulations on State assistance, the interpretation of the Rome Convention of 19 June 1980 on the law applicable to contractual obligations, the determination of the legal status of a ship and its crew, and Community registration of crewing agencies, should make it possible to regulate situations that are currently unregulated. Discussions on the human factor in incidents at sea cannot but have consequences, inasmuch as member states of the European Union are Flag States.
The Port State’s control covers all ships putting in at European Union ports, whatever flag they are sailing under. There appears to be a need to strengthen social controls with respect to manning levels, the skills of the crew, working hours, and rest periods. Community law should give substance to IMO Resolutions A930 and A931 of 29 December 2001, on guaranteeing the payment of seafarers’ wage claims in the event of abandonment and on shipowners’ liability with respect to contractual claims for personal injury. It should also give substance to the IBF (International Bargaining Forum) pay agreement concluded on 13 November 2003 by the ITF, European shipowners in IMEC (International Maritime Employers’ Committee), and Japanese shipowners. This agreement, known as a “green ticket” agreement, should form part of the European social dialogue and give rise to a double extension through a Directive, as happened in 1999 with respect to the agreement on working hours in the merchant navy. Finally, an international public order needs to be constructed that ensures basic rights are respected and decent working conditions guaranteed, and IMO and ITF inspectors need to coordinate their actions, in order to ensure maritime safety, fair competition, environmental safety, and compliance with current international regulations. In the absence of any internationally applicable structure, the primacy of Community law acts as an extremely useful lever.