Everything you need to know about port welfare committees

Everything you need to know about port welfare committees

  • What is a port welfare committee?
  • What does a port welfare committee do?
  • Why are port welfare committees important?
  • Who benefits from port welfare committees?
  • Who can get involved with a port welfare committee?

What is a port welfare committee?

A port welfare committee is an organisation that works to improve the welfare of seafarers. Port welfare committees provide a forum where people from organisations that deal with the welfare of resident and visiting seafarers can meet to discuss and coordinate their actions.

The organisations represented at a port welfare committee may include:

  • Port authorities
  • Ship owners
  • Crewing agencies
  • Unions
  • Welfare organisations
  • Charities

A port welfare committee may serve the seafarer’s of one port, or it may cover several ports in different locations. Port welfare committees may be organised as part of a national body, known as a national welfare board (NWB).

Port welfare committees are an effective way to coordinate seafarers’ welfare. Ports with welfare committees typically have better, more organised welfare services.

The need for port welfare committees – as defined by the Maritime Labour Convention

While port welfare committees have been providing facilities to improve seafarers’ welfare for many years, their number is due to increase thanks to the International Labour Organization’s Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), which comes into force in 2012.

The MLC defines the facilities and services that seafarer’s can expect to receive, on and off their ships. The MLC is a major step towards improving seafarer’s welfare, and helping them, and their families, to feel more connected and better protected. The MLC states that port welfare committees (as well as national welfare boards) are essential to improve the welfare of seafarers.

What does a port welfare committee do?

Port welfare committees help to improve the welfare of seafarers.

“We work with others to encourage cooperation between unions, missions and other welfare agencies and try to link the provision of grants to increased cooperation between the different agencies within a particular port. The Port Welfare Committee can be a very good way to achieve better services to seafarers.” Tom Holmer, ITF Seafarers Trust

Typical activities of a PWC include:

Pastoral (religious) and non-pastoral care and advice.

  • Creating and operating seafarers’ centres that offer a range of services and facilities.
  • Providing low-cost telephone and Internet services.
  • Improving access between the ship and local services (such as shops or medical facilities).
  • Helping seafarers access medical services, legal advice and places of worship.
  • Making recommendations on proposals for new services, or changes to existing services.
  • Providing information on grant applications to funding  organisations (e.g. ITF Seafarers’ Trust)
  • Lobbying for a port levy scheme and monitoring the effective use of funds raised by such a scheme.

Common problems for PWCs to fix include…

One important job for any PWC is to improve seafarer’s access to welfare facilities and to improve access to the port and ships by welfare workers. PWCs should discuss the implementation of the ISPS code at their port and the problems it causes for seafarers and welfare workers.
A good example of an issue that affects many seafarers is the need for reliable, affordable transport from the port gates. There are often taxis available, but seafarers have no way of knowing whether they are trustworthy or if the rates are fair. A PWC could agree tariffs with transport companies and provide a list of approved taxi companies to seafarers. A ‘seal of approval’ could be extended to other services, so that seafarers can easily find and use the best, most affordable and most reliable port services.

Mandatory seafarers’ welfare includes…

  • Minimum agreed standards of pay, leave and decent living conditions (this is the responsibility of employers).
  • Ensuring that members receive their entitlements, encouraging improved conditions when necessary (this is the responsibility of trade unions)
  • Shipboard safety, ensuring the ship meets minimum legislative requirements (this is the responsibility of government agencies).

Optional seafarers’ welfare includes…

  • Ship visitors
  • Port-based welfare services or a port welfare centre
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