New report on exploitation of maritime workers

A survey has shown the scale of corrupt practice where maritime workers are forced to pay illegal fees to work on ships.

The extent of illegal recruitment fees and charges being levied on seafarers, in violation of the Maritime Labour Convention, was revealed in a report by Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and maritime welfare charity, The Mission to Seafarers (MtS).

The report shines a light on instances in which seafarers are being forced into paying illegal fees and charges, leading to debt, poor working conditions and family separation.

The report includes a survey of over 200 seafarers, drawn from a wide variety of ranks, age and nationalities. Almost 65% of respondents has encountered illegal demands for recruitment or placement fees, either through personal experience or the experience of a colleague.

29% of cases were related to Indian citizens, followed by Filipino and then Myanmarese citizens and in 36% of cases, the demand for fees was made in India.

58% of respondents also stated that the demand for illegal fees and charges were from the crewing agent appointed by the shipping company. A further 31% said it was from an individual with links to the crewing agent and 11% said the demand came from an employee of the shipping company.

When asked about the nature of the demand, 56% responded that it was described as a ‘service charge’, 29% as ‘agency fees/registration fees’ and 29% as a ‘bribe’.

"These practices can trap seafarers in debt bondage, compelling them to endure exploitative and abusive working conditions" - Dr Christos Kontovas, LJMU

The sums involved varied from US$50-100 up to US$7,500, with the average being US$1,872. In 10% of reported cases, the seafarers affected are still in debt while 29% of respondents had experience of their documents being unlawfully withheld during the recruitment process.

The authors said the practice was “a clear breach of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), an international treaty adopted by the International Labour Organisation, which makes clear that “no fees or charges should be borne by the seafarers for their recruitment, placement, or employment”.

In the worst cases, this exploitation can lead to serious human right violations, with seafarers trapped in debt bondage and forced to endure exploitative working conditions.

Dr Christos Kontovas, LJMU report lead author, added: "Our study sheds light on the disturbing reality of seafarers being subjected to illegal fees and charges. These practices can trap seafarers in debt bondage, compelling them to endure exploitative and abusive working conditions.

“What is truly disheartening though is that such practices tarnish the image of the maritime industry, leading to its perception as exploitative and unfair. This, in turn, has the potential to discourage aspiring seafarers from pursuing their dreams. We are, currently, exploring strategies to mitigate these practices, aiming to contribute towards addressing this deeply serious problem."

The report formed part of a discussion at The Global Forum for Responsible Recruitment, a major international forum bringing together businesses, civil society, trade unions, government, and academia to discuss the global agenda on responsible recruitment.

Ben Bailey, Mission to Seafarer’s Director of Programme, said: “This report confirms what seafarers have told us informally.  Not only does the data shed new light on this practice, the anecdotal feedback from seafarers also further reveals how widespread and damaging this problem is to individuals and their families.

“The illegal charging of fees impacts not just the livelihoods and wellbeing of seafarers and their families who are being systematically exploited, but also to the wider reputation of the shipping industry. If shipping wants to be able to attract and retain the talented seafarers that it relies upon, it will require meaningful action from national and international regulators, shipping companies, and the recruitment sector to drive out this practice.”

-LJMU staff who conducted the research were: Dr Christos Kontovas, Dr Robyn Pyne and Anna Kaparaki (School of Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Technology), Dr Yinan Yin (School of Law), and former LJMU MSc students and research assistants, Rushdie Rasheed and Isuru Wijeratne.


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