Thousands of Jamaicans who are employed in the hospitality division of passenger ships are poised to benefit from significantly enhanced rights protection under the Shipping (Amendment) Act, which has been passed in both Houses of Parliament.
Under the new legislation, a wider definition of seafarer has been adopted to cover any person engaged by or on behalf of the owner of a ship, including hospitality workers.
The Bill was passed by the Senate, with two amendments, during Friday’s (December 11) sitting at Gordon House. It was previously ratified in the House of Representatives on November 17.
Leader of Government Business in the Upper House, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, who piloted the Bill in the Senate, noted that while thousands of persons working onboard ships undertake various tasks, including providing entertainment and food services, under the existing Shipping Act, only the crew who are responsible for navigating vessels, are accorded certain rights.
“Clearly, a situation in which one set of employees have a right and others do not, is not an enabling environment. This Bill seeks to make better provisions for the maintenance of standards and behaviours within the shipping industry – nationally and internationally-, promoting respect for the dignity of each person, notwithstanding the role they perform on a ship,” she said.
Senator Johnson Smith, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, reiterated Jamaica’s commitment to promote and protect the fundamental rights, freedoms and dignity of all its citizens.
Against this background, she said the Bill “allows us to stand up for the rights and dignity of seafarers by incorporating provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, to which we have acceded”.
“We agree with Article 4 of the Convention that every seafarer has the right to a safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards; that every seafarer has the right to fair terms of employment; that every seafarer has a right to decent working and living conditions onboard; and every seafarer has a right to health protection, medical care, welfare measures and other forms of social protection,” she said.
Senator Johnson Smith informed that the Bill protects Jamaican seafarers in two broad circumstances.
Firstly, it will protect individuals when they are onboard a foreign flag ship in Jamaican waters.
“So the terms will apply whether or not the ship’s flag state is party to the Convention,” she said.
The Minister explained that flag state relates to a ship’s registration in a particular jurisdiction that enables said vessel to sail under that territory’s official banner.
Secondly, this protection will also apply where Jamaicans are aboard Jamaican ships, wherever they are in the world.
“So whatever waters they are in, once a ship is Jamaican, [then] Jamaican workers… will be properly protected. This is very important for us, because Jamaican ships tend to cross trade and, in fact, rarely call in Jamaican ports,” Senator Johnson Smith noted.
Further, under the new legislation, the framework for the engagement and welfare of seafarers has also been enhanced with the addition of provisions governing collective bargaining agreements, and establishes the competent authority for the Act as the Maritime Authority.
Additionally, the Bill introduces requirements for Jamaican ships of 500 gross tonnage or over, to have on board a current Maritime Labour Certificate and a Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance, demonstrating compliance with the Maritime Labour Convention.
The amendments to the Bill also provide additional protection for Jamaican ship workers by ensuring that those under age 18 are not assigned to engage in dangerous work without proper supervision.
Such persons may not be engaged in the engine room (unless under supervision), in night work (unless with the permission of the Authority for a recognised training programme), or as a cook or in any type of activity that could potentially jeopardise their health or safety.
The Bill also speaks the provision of water for seafarers on board, as a free commodity to them.
The legislation further introduces provisions addressing a ship owner’s liability for medical care and burial expenses.
It, additionally, stipulates that the owner of a Jamaican ship is responsible for the health, protection and medical care of all seafarers working on board the vessel, and such medical care shall be comparable to that available to workers ashore.