Source: Paul Gonzi in ‘Times of Malta’, 13-10-14
The ever growing number of Malta-flagged vessels is evidence of the robust framework within which the Maltese ship-registry operates, comprising sound legislation and practical procedures which continue to meet best industry standards.
Malta, as a member of the EU as of 2004, makes every effort to meet international obligations, attested as of recent by the ratification of the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and the transposition of the convention’s provisions into the Laws of Malta by means of the 2013 Rules – the Merchant Shipping, Maritime Labour Convention) Rules applicable primarily to commercial seagoing vessels.
In today’s global industry, the protection of seafarers working (and often residing for long periods) on board vessels has progressively become of paramount importance, and is regulated by a number of legislative instruments, not least the aforementioned MLC and other EU legislation, such as Council Directive 1999/63/EC which puts into effect the 1998 Agreement on Working Time of Seafarers (concluded between the organisations representing management and labour in the maritime sector among the EU member states) which is also applicable to seagoing ships.
Effectively, within the EU, the working-time for workers is, to date, primarily regulated by means of the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) which sets minimum standards to protect the health and safety of workers. This directive is currently transposed into the Laws of Malta by means of Subsidiary Legislation 452/87 entitled ‘The organisation of working time regulations’ which sets rules on daily rest, breaks, weekly rest and duration of night work, among other things.
The Working Time Directive also makes reference to transport sectors and to inland waterway transport; however, it has over the years been argued that it does not take the specific working and living conditions of navigational crew members and shipboard personnel engaged on board inland waterway vessels in the sector sufficiently into account. Indeed, exceptions to mobile workers working on such vessels are provided for also under the
Thus it has been concluded by the European Commission that more sector-specific rules are necessary, this particularly in light of the fact that working time on board such vessels may vary depending on the way in which work is organised, the operations concerned, the geographical location and the cross-border nature and the length of the particular voyages which may vary from continuous sailing (24/7) to short-term day voyages.
The Commission has concluded that such rules are necessary to balance out the protection of the seafarer’s health and safety, with the reality that many seafarers on such inland waterway vessels must spend consecutive days working and residing on the vessel often with long on-call time – effectively requiring working time which exceeds the maximum times specified in the Working Time Directive.
Indeed Directive 2003/88/EC does allow for a sectoral approach to be taken in certain circumstances, with the possibility for separate provisions to be adapted to the specific needs of different transport sectors, as has occurred in the case of civil aviation, rail transport and general seafarers engaged on commercial sea-going vessels.
Therefore, given the particular needs of the inland waterway industry, in July 2014 the European Commission presented a proposal aimed at setting specific rules on working time for the inland waterway transport sector which would implement a 2012 agreement reached by EU-level representatives of employers and employees in this sector including the European Transport Workers Federation, the European Barge Union and the European Skippers Organisation. The agreement sets minimum rules on working time for passenger or cargo transport ships in inland navigation across the EU.
Thus, under the proposal for a directive, the European Commission has suggested, among other things, that the total working time for such workers would not exceed 48 hours per week, though this could be averaged over up to 12 months and the total night working time would not exceed 42 hours per week.
In addition such workers would be entitled to at least four weeks’ paid annual leave, and to paid annual medical tests, together with an entitlement of at least 10 hours daily rest (with at least six hours uninterrupted) and to at least a total weekly 84 hours of rest.
The proposal may be found on the web portal of the EuropeanCommission. Indeed, the impact of such proposed Directive on the Laws of Malta, and in particular on Malta-flagged inland waterway vessels, whether of a passenger or cargo transport nature, is
yet to be determined.
Nevertheless, one can expect that such amendments will continue to strengthen the Maltese
maritime registry as a reputable flag which on the one hand benefits ship-owners yet without
compromising the rights of seafarers.
Paul Gonzi is a lawyer specialising in employment, data protection and ICT law at Fenech &
Fenech Advocates. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.