The shipping industry is supported by a largely invisible workforce that experiences extended periods of isolation from communities and inconsistent access to healthcare. The members of the Canadian National Seafarers’ Welfare Board support the development of a seafarer welfare centre (SWC) in St. John’s, one of the port state obligations stipulated in the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 to ensure decent working conditions at sea. The goal of this project is to mobilize existing community organizations to partner with the National Seafarers' Welfare Board, the local port authority, and the Memorial University in the development of a local and research-friendly SWC.
Canada, as a maritime nation, is regarded internationally as an important port State, and a leader in advocating decent labour standards at sea. Port States enforce international maritime conventions by inspecting foreign ships that enter a sovereign state’s waters (TC, 2017). Inspections are critical to ensure ships involved in trade adhere to international standards and do not risk life, property, or the environment (TC, 2017). Seafarers’ rights to decent working and living conditions, furthermore, are consolidated in the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006), which was developed by the International Labour Organization and ratified by Canada in 2010.
The ability of Port State Control to enforce the MLC, 2006 and support seafarers was sorely tested during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seafarers’ access to shore-based healthcare was hindered by travel restrictions and loss of shore leave opportunities. The provincial administration of healthcare complicated vaccine distribution among international essential workers. The absence of a SWC in Newfoundland was flagged as the National Seafarer Welfare Board and Transport Canada scrambled to organize support for seafarers' medical evacuation to St. John’s.
To demonstrate commitment to the MLC, 2006 provisions, members of the Canadian National Seafarer Welfare Board, led by the Mission to Seafarers, are working with Memorial University (MUN) to develop a SWC in St. John’s, a port city that receives more than 1000 ships a year (SJPA, 2023). This fund will allow us to expand this partnership to include existing community organizations and thus strengthen the functionality of the SWC. Rooting the centre into the community will facilitate continuous translation and cultural services and provide impactful volunteer opportunities. Purposeful recruitment and training of volunteers will strengthen St. John’s identity as a maritime community by increasing the visibility of seafarers and their challenges.
Faculty of Medicine
Mission to Seafarers, Halifax
North American Maritime Ministry Associations