Seafarers’ rights protection must be enhanced, as the industry prepares for a digitalized and decarbonized future, said delegates at the first joint seafarers high-level conference, organized by the ILO and IMO. Representatives from fishers and fishing vessel owners, academia, and governments agreed that existing regulations to protect fishers must be better enforced and that further ratification of fishing treaties is urgently needed.

The Work at Sea Conference , which took place on 13 November, is part of coordinated work by the two United Nations agencies to acknowledge the pivotal role of seafaring in future global development and to ensure robust protections for those who work at sea. Issues discussed included working conditions, abandonment at sea, responsible ship management and the physical and psychological well-being of seafarers and fishers.

“Fishers continue to face many decent work deficits, including for some, denial of their fundamental principles and rights at work,” said ILO Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo. “While UN agencies have expanded cooperation in this sector, progress is still slow, and there is an urgent need to accelerate action towards the ratification and implementation of key ILO and IMO fishing Conventions.”

IMO Secretary-General, Kitack Lim said, “The professionals who work at sea, the seafarers, fishers and other maritime personnel, are the lifeblood of shipping and their wellbeing is paramount. They are the ones who ensure that goods and food are shipped and delivered safely and effectively around the globe. They are on the frontline, a responsibility that has been particularly highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without them, shipping simply stops.”

The event highlighted the fundamental importance of social dialogue and the key role of seafarers’ and shipowners’ organizations to succeed in this endeavor. “The time for viewing seafarers as commodities is over. We must change this perspective through collaboration – governments, employers, unions all working with seafarers, re-defining the social contract, and safeguarding their welfare, will be key to create a sustainable industry that people are proud to work for,” said Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).

“Our collective responsibility is to change the shape of our industries, to create an environment where people aspire to work internationally in shipping and fishing,” highlighted Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). “We have to find a way to transition our industry so that it is an attractive place to work. We need to invest in our seafarers and make sure that they are in a safe environment with the necessary education and skills.” Delegates agreed that international cooperation and collaboration are vital to redouble efforts to guarantee, in law and in practice, good working and living conditions for seafarers and fishers.