Minister links new Seafarers Bill to coronavirus pandemicSaturday, December 19, 2020
MINISTER of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith says Government's efforts to improve the working conditions of Jamaican seafarers are related to its experiences in the earlier days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Senator Johnson Smith's reference was to the April stand-off between the Government and some cruise vessels which were still sailing the seas with hundreds of Jamaican workers on-board in April.
The Government's refusal to grant urgent entry exemptions demanded by the owners of some ships, including the Marella Discovery 2, in order to have stranded Jamaican crews taken in en masse during the early spread of the coronavirus was criticised by some Jamaicans as unconstitutional but applauded by others as a response to the failure of some cruise companies to observe the Maritime Labour Convention.
Senator Johnson Smith, who is also Leader of Government Business in the Senate, said at last that the Government's response to the exemption requests from the vessels was to have an orderly and safe return of the crew members.
“During the earlier stages of the pandemic, when our borders were closed and there were issues about repatriation of [our] seafarers, we made it clear that these matters had to be dealt [with] in an orderly and safe manner,” she told the Senate as she closed the debate on the amendments to the Shipping Act 2020, which are aimed at protecting the rights of Jamaican seafarers under the convention.
“It was because we needed to insist that, as the appropriate owners of the ships, we had to hold them to their obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention [in cases where] they were sailing under the flag of signatory countries, and that we had a right, as a country, to insist that they so did,” Senator Johnson Smith told the Senate last week.
However, she admitted that the conversations were not made public at that time because they were not conversations that either take place in the media, or could take place overnight.
“They were the subject of discussions that needed to take place with the 'Marella ', that first ship that brought the issue to public attention, as well as many other ships which had to consolidate our Jamaican nationals. And there were other nationals, because we all were aware that this was a global issue being managed by ships across the world with many different port countries, as we were, and sailing under the flags of different countries,” she stated.
“We were clear that we needed to insist that the rights of our workers needed to be respected under the flags of the ships that they were sailing under and, accordingly, that process was adhered to. They did adhere to their obligations, which must be appreciated,” she insisted.
She said that this is how international laws work, in terms of ensuring the appropriate enforcement and insistence by governments on the implementation of the rules.
Senator Johnson Smith said that the new amendments to Jamaica's Shipping Act 2020 will enhance those circumstances and ensure that the Jamaican flag will carry the rights under domestic legislation, as well as the convention to which the country has acceded.
“Certainly we have, as a Government, ensured that we do our due diligence, and ensure where those rights apply. So you can't try to pull a fast one and tell the Jamaican Government that you are not required to, and that either the seafarers must pay or the Government must pay, and you mustn't seek to have arrangements formally made because people are upset in the public domain – and I don't mean the seafarers, themselves,” she noted.
She said that these negotiations have to be managed appropriately, safely and with concern for international obligations and international law.
“I feel very confident that we so did and, in fact, proud of our authorities – including the Maritime Authority [of Jamaica] and our health authorities – which ensured that all obligations were met and our citizens were [dealt] perhaps with less dispatch than they would have desired because of the circumstances and the anxiety in which they were subsisting,” she pointed out.
“But I am sure that many of them, having landed and having been able to review and reflect on what occurred, they would have a greater understanding of what occurred and the complex nature of what everyone was working through and had been working through, globally, on that matter,” she told the Senate.
The new amendments will primarily protect Jamaican seafarers (formerly called seamen) in terms of when they are on-board a ship sailing under a foreign flag in Jamaican waters or when they are sailing in other jurisdictions.
It will improve the framework for the engagement and welfare of seafarers by adding provisions governing collective bargaining agreements, and establishes the competent authority for the Act as the Maritime Authority of Jamaica.
It also 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, which should be available to the seafarers on demand.
The Bill was passed by the House of Representatives on November 17 under the guidance of Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague.
— Balford Henry
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