Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 29/2016]
Madam, Singapore was one of the first few countries to ratify the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention (in 2011), signalling our firm commitment to protect seafarers against abuse and exploitation – one of the biggest lapses and criticisms faced by the shipping industry today.
Singapore is a global maritime hub, ranked among the world’s top ten largest ship registries with more than 4,500 vessels on our register.
Because of our global position, we must take the lead to ensure that we are a hub which is not just efficient, professional and reliable – but one which is also responsible.
In this regard, I stand in full support of this Bill to codify into law the amendments to the Convention.
Addressing human rights atrocities
In 2015, I was appalled to read about the alleged slavery and trafficking in the Thai fishing industry. I could not believe the human rights atrocities reported, which I thought was inconceivable in the 21st century.
While this Bill deals with merchant and not fishing fleets, reports have shown that similar problems do affect seafarers on board merchant ships.
We have travelled far since 2006 when the Maritime Labour Convention was first introduced (and ratified by Singapore in 2011), but implementation and enforcement in all 77 countries took time.
In the meantime, reports continued to surface on abuses ranging from inhumane working conditions to the systematic cheating of seafarers’ wages.
And one case linked the death of a Filipino seafarer to a recruitment agency in Singapore, though MOM later clarified that the illegal activities occurred outside our borders.
Madam, the high seas are wrought with little oversight, weak rules and abuse of workers. Seafarers are fully dependent on the ratification of international conventions to protect their fundamental rights.
The implementation of these conventions will be difficult – especially after these new amendments broaden the responsibilities of ship owners.
But Singapore is one of the few developed countries among the port States, and we should be a shining example, being one of the first to implement the new rules.
Compared to other port States, we have adequate resources and a strong governance system to ensure the human rights of seafarers are codified and enforced. This Bill enables us to be that shining example.
I support all changes introduced by this Bill. In particular, offering better protection for abandoned seafarers, and requiring shipowners to provide financial security for the compensation of seafarers (and their families in cases of a seafarer’s death or long-term disability).
In the spirit of these commendable amendments, I have the following questions:
(1) Will the Employment Act or the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act also be extended to seafarers for non-injury employment issues which would be in line with the Maritime Labour Convention’s principles on clear employment conditions; and
(2) Whether the Ministry will be taking additional steps to ensure enforcement of these added protections given that seafarers have few opportunities whilst on land to access NGO and MOM aid channels?
I want to end by saying that I am heartened by Singapore’s enthusiasm towards responsible business practices. Although in the short term, ship owners will have to absorb higher costs for compliance, in the long term, it will ensure business continuity for Singapore’s ports.
As we face increased competition from growing ports in China, our strict compliance with international law will stand out as a competitive advantage.
In our pursuit of flexible, commercially-focused policies, we must continue to raise the profile of the human element in businesses – particularly for industries with a global nature such as shipping.
We must continue to recognise that the fundamental protection of a human being cannot be subservient to business objectives.
With that Madam I stand in strong support of the Bill.