F R Chowdhury
It is for quite some time that I have been writing on the subject of ILO Maritime Labour Convention-2006 but I do not think the Government has yet taken any action. Time is running out. The Convention comes into force in August. Even if we fail to become a Party State before the instrument enters into force, we still have to comply with it. The bare minimum that the Government (Department of Shipping) can do is to authorize the recognised Classification Societies to survey our ships and issue certificates of compliance so that Bangladesh ships are not harassed or detained in foreign ports.
The focus of this article is on a particular provision of the Convention known as Recruitment & Placement Services. As per SOLAS-74, ISM Code and STCW Convention there is no separate entity known as manning agent. It remains the integral function of the ISM certified company because it is a part of the safe management of ships. However, while adopting ILO-MLC-2006 the delegates realised the reality that the ship-management companies are located in London, Glasgow, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Singapore and Cyprus but they recruit seafarers from Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar through their agents. If the seafarers are eventually deprived or stranded abroad the national Government of the seafarers have no direct control and cannot exert any influence or resolve the matter. So, they introduced the system of RPS so that local agents of the ship-management companies are duly licensed by the maritime administration in that country. In any unfortunate situation the first point of contact for the administration shall be the RPS.
Now we can understand the importance of RPS and this must be dealt with by the Government (Department of Shipping) directly and never to be delegated to RO or Classification Societies. The Department issuing RPS licence/ certificate must ensure that:
· Each RPS is a company registered in Bangladesh with its principal office of business located within Bangladesh;
· The RPS has a highest qualified sea-going officer (master or chief engineer) in its full time employment to look after manning matters;
· The RPS office and contact (visiting, postal and electronic) of responsible person must always be available to the Department;
· One of the first thing the RPS should do – establish the genuine existence/ presence of the ship and its ISM company when they receive order for selection of crew;
· The RPS should ask for a copy of the SMD issued by the Flag State;
· The RPS shall not charge any fees or remuneration from the seafarer. It shall receive fees from the employer;
· The RPS shall select seafarers with valid competency certificates, medical fitness certificate and other documents as required in Bangladesh and the Flag State;
· RPS shall check and ensure that all required documents are genuine;
· Where necessary the RPS shall obtain Flag State Endorsements;
· No person shall be employed without being duly signed on A/A or other acceptable agreement;
· No temporary repair party or anyone else (not required by SMD) can be signed on as Supernumerary unless permission is obtained from the Department;
· The RPS shall always make available to the Government details of all persons employed through them;
· The RPS shall give undertaking that it shall do everything possible within its means to ensure that seafarers are paid regularly and that they are repatriated at the end of the contract;
· The RPS shall keep the Department informed of any accident or casualty or any dispute or disciplinary matter involving any Bangladeshi seafarer;
· The RPS shall comply with all other requirements considered necessary by the Government or comply with code of conduct, if one made by the Government;
· The RPS shall submit in favour of the government a bank guarantee of such amount as determined by the Government.
The Government should immediately establish its guidelines (taking the above stated points into consideration) and grant RPS licence so that licensed RPS can notify and link up with major ship-management companies for employment of Bangladeshi seafarer. Please note the foreign ship-owners and ship-management companies will only recruit through licensed RPS. Existence of no RPS in Bangladesh may mean end of employment of Bangladeshi seafarers on foreign ships. I hope everybody understands the urgency of the situation.