RIGHTS OF SEAFARERS IN NIGERIA: LEGAL EXPECTATION
By the provisions of Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, Seafarers, like all other members of the society enjoy the basic Fundamental Human Rights contained therein seeing as these rights are inherent. It should however be noted that although the Constitution provides for Human Rights, the principal legislation that protects the rights of seafarers in Nigeria is the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 usually referred to as the MCL 2006. Though a 2006 Convention, it was ratified by Nigeria on 18th June 2013 and it provides for living and working standards for all seafarers. The Merchant Shipping Act 2007 also contains provisions for the protection of the seafarer.
The rights chiefly provided for by the MCL 2006 and the Merchant Shipping Act 2007 include:
1. Right to fair wages
2. Right to hours of work and rest
3. Right to leave
4. Right to compensation
5. Right to favourable living conditions
6. Right to Medical care
Right to fair wages
Section 151 of the Merchant Shipping Act provides that seafarers and seamen aboard Nigerian ships are entitled to wages and they shall also not be expected or required to subscribe to any agreement intended to cause them to forfeit their wages or be precluded from recovering same.
Section 152 of the Merchant Shipping Act further provides that in the event of the loss of a ship, the seafarer is still entitled to wages for the job he has completed. Any agreement between the seafarer and ship owner that seeks to negate this right shall be deemed to be void. This right is extensively couched to include the right to wages even where freight is not earned and payment of wages even where the seafarer is dead. In the event of a default by the shipowner or master of the ship, a seafarer can institute a summary proceeding for an account of wages and damages.
Right to hours of work and rest
The Guidelines for the development of tables of seafarers’ shipboard working arrangements and formats of records of seafarers’ hours of work or hours of rest of 1999 developed by the International Maritime Organization and the International Labour Organization Guidelines on fatigue (MSC.1/Circ.1598) provide that a seafarer should be allowed adequate periods where he is not expected to be on duty or at the pleasure of the Shipmaster. It should however be noted that routine breaks are not included under the scope of hours of rest.
The Maritime Labour Convention prescribes eight hours a day for work, to be accompanied by at least a day of rest and a maximum of 14 hours of work and a minimum of 10 hours of rest in every 24-hour window.
Right to leave
The leave granted to seafarers is known as shore leave. The International Labour Organization provide that every member of a ship is entitled to annual leave with pay which shall be a minimum of 30 days for every one year of service. This leave comes with pay and excludes public holidays, breaks due to illness or compensatory leave.
Right to compensation
Seafarers are entitled to compensation where there is damage or injury or termination of employment occasioned by the destruction of the ship. This compensation is payable by the shipowner and does not preclude the seafarer from any other claim available under relevant local laws or regulations.
Right to favourable living conditions
Due to the conditions of the work environment of seafarers aboard ships and the strenuous nature of their jobs, it is important to ensure that their living conditions are favourable, or at the very least, comfortable. The guarantee of a sane working and living environment for seafarers is often ignored by shipowners and masters. The seafarer is however entitled to institute an action for claims where the working condition has adversely affected him.
Right to Health and Safety
Seafarers are usually aboard sailing vessels and access to medical care in a vessel at sea is nearly impossible without the provision of same by the employer. It is therefore the duty of the employer to provide adequate facilities and personnel to ensure that the health and medical needs of seafarers are promptly attended to. This is imperative because the sea makes the human body more susceptible to certain illnesses and the proximity of crew member make communication of illnesses very rapid. This becomes the obligation of member states of the International Maritime Organization Convention when the Ship is onshore. Every ship is also expected to have a medicine chest.
The right to safety is not only limited to health. The seafarer has a right to remove himself from harm’s way when he reasonably suspects that his body or health would be harmed. This right also indemnifies a seafarer from fear of termination of employment on the basis of the complaint of health and safety conditions.