What are ...IMO and ILO?

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What are ...IMO and ILO?

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is the United Nations agency responsible for developing international regulation for the shipping industry. This includes measures to deal with safety, the environment, technical co-operation, legal issues and security.


The IMO sets international maritime standards through a number of Conventions and guidelines. The three main IMO Conventions are:


  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) – which covers safety at sea;
  • Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Convention (STCW) – covering training and professional standards for seafarers;
  • International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) – which addresses environmental concerns


The IMO Conventions are of importance to seafarers because they have a direct impact on living and working conditions. The IMO is made up of representatives of the flag States. The ITF, representing the interests of seafarers, and the organisations of the shipping industry have observer status. This means that we can have an input into discussions but no vote on any decisions that are to be taken. The ITF has a permanent representative to the IMO, in addition there are monitors elected from ITF affiliated unions who participate in the various committees. Our aim is to ensure that seafarers’ interests are addressed and protected when any new regulation is being considered.

IMO covers the following areas:

  • Maritime safety
  • Marine environment protection
  • Legal
  • Facilitation
  • Technical co-operation
  • Bulk liquids and gases
  • Radiocommunications and search and rescue
  • Ship design and equipment
  • Dangerous goods, solid cargoes and containers
  • Fire protection
  • Flag State implementation
  • Safety of navigation
  • Stability of load lines and on fishing vessels safety
  • Standards of training and watchkeeping


The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the UN agency that sets internationally recognised labour standards to protect the rights of workers.


The ILO is made up of a social partnership of governments, employers and trade unions. ITF leads the work of the shipping and fisheries trade unions in this partnership.

The ILO sets international labour standards through key international agreements:

  • Declaration of Fundamental Rights at Work (1998) enshrines the right of workers to organise and bargain effectively, as well as freedom from discrimination and other basic employment rights
  • Eight ‘core’ ILO Conventions cover the fundamental rights expressed in the Declaration. These Conventions cover:           

                - Forced labour
                - Freedom of association and protection of the right to organise
                - Right to organise and collective bargaining
                - Equal remuneration
                - Abolition of forced labour
                - Discrimination (employment and occupation)
                - Minimum age
                - Elimination of the worst forms of child labour

Major achievements of the ILO over the past few years include the adoption of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and the Work in Fishing Convention.

Adopted in February 2006, the ILO's Maritime Labour Convention sets the minimum standards to ensure satisfactory conditions of employment for the world’s seafarers. It brings together and updates over 65 other ILO maritime labour instruments, while introducing a system of certification and inspection to enforce it.

The Maritime Labour Conventions covers:

  • An employment agreement, guaranteeing decent on-board working and living conditions, to be signed by both the seafarer and the shipowner, or a representative of the shipowner
  • Monthly pay, in full and in accordance with the employment agreement and any applicable collective agreement
  • 14-hour work limit in any 24-hour period, 72 hours in any seven-day period
  • The shipowner must pay to repatriate a seafarer in case of illness, injury, shipwreck, insolvency, sale of ship and so on
  • Specific requirements for living accommodation and recreational facilities – including minimum room sizes, and satisfactory heating, ventilation, sanitary facilities, lighting and hospital accommodation.
  • Access to prompt medical care when on board and in port

Ships will need to comply with the Convention through holding a Maritime Labour Certificate and Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance issued by the flag state, which must be available on board for any port state inspection.


Sometimes the IMO and ILO join forces to address issues of mutual concern. Two examples of this are the fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident, for which there are now joint guidelines, and the issue of liability and compensation regarding claims for death, personal injury and abandonment of seafarers.

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