Social partners propose draft Directive on working time in the European maritime sector

Workers in the maritime sector were among those excluded from the 1993 EU working time Directive. Since then, the European-level social partners in the sector have been negotiating on maximum working hours and rest periods, and an accord was signed in December 1997. The parties want the agreement to be made binding via a Council Directive. If adopted, this would be the first EU legislative measure ever to spring from the sectoral social dialogue, and may lead the way for other sectors currently excluded from the working time Directive.

The Federation of Transport Workers' Unions in the European Union (FST) and theEuropean Community Shipowners' Association (ECSA) agreed a joint text on working time and time off aboard ship in December 1997. The approximately 128,000 EU nationals and 26,000 non-EU nationals employed in the maritime sector are among the workers excluded from the provisions of the EU Directive (93/104/EC) on certain aspects of the organisation of working time.

In July 1997, the European Commission published a White Paper on sectors and activities excluded from the working time Directive, including maritime transport, and is currently awaiting comments from the social partners (EU9707138N). In the White Paper, the exclusion of the various sectors is termed an anomaly and a variety of options are suggested for addressing these exclusions.

When it became clear that the maritime sector was to be excluded from the Directive, the social partners in the sector decided to enter into negotiations within the framework of the Commission-sponsored Joint Committee on Maritime Transport in order to make Community-wide provisions for working time in the industry.

In December 1997, FST and ECSA reached an agreement on maximum working hours and minimum rest periods. If this draft is approved by executive committees of the respective organisations, it will be put to the Commission with a request for it to be given legal effect by a Council of Ministers Directive, thus making it the first EU legislative measure to spring from the sectoral social dialogue.

The maritime industry in Europe and its social dialogue

The Community maritime transport sector's share of the total world fleet is constantly declining, and it currently accounts for no more than 10%-15% of the world market. There has also been an increasing concentration in the industry, with smaller providers surviving through specialisation. Developments in the European Union have tended towards deregulation in an attempt to remain competitive. The maritime transport sector currently accounts for approximately 153,730 employees, of whom around 128,000 are Community nationals. Since 1980, the number of EU nationals working in the sector has declined by nearly 130,000, mainly as a result of the move by shipowners and operators to non-Community "flags of convenience", and as a result to less rigorous conditions and cheaper rates (DE9706118F).

At a conference entitled "Is the EU seafarer an endangered species?" held in Dublin in December 1996, the European Commissioner responsible for transport, Neil Kinnock, warned that the disappearance of the EU seafarer was inevitable if current trends persisted - a warning which he argued should be considered as a "call to action" in order to safeguard employment, skills, safety and competitiveness. Recent studies have shown an impending recruitment crisis at the same time as there is set to be an increase in seaborne trade. The recommendations of the conference called upon the Community to give more effective support to training in the sector.

The social dialogue in the European maritime sector takes places within the framework of the Joint Committee on Maritime Transport which was set up in July 1987 (following over a decade of less formal contacts), with a view to assisting the Commission in formulating and implementing policy in order to improve living and working conditions in the sector and improving the competitive position of the sector within the Community. The committee has a specialised working party on working time. The social dialogue in the sector has largely focused on the issues of employment, health and safety and working time, and has so far yielded the following joint opinions:

The agreement on the organisation of working time

The agreement concluded on 18 December 1997 represents the culmination of negotiations on setting maximum working hours and minimum rest period for employees in the maritime sector which started approximately five years ago, after it became clear that the transport sector was to be excluded from the scope of the working time Directive. Negotiations were carried out on the basis of international standards set by the International Labour Organisation.

The agreement on the proposed content of a draft Directive would apply to all employees working aboard a ship registered in any Member State and ordinarily engaged in commercial maritime operations. The proposed Directive would apply whether the ship is publicly or privately owned.

Member States would be asked to acknowledge that the normal working day for employees on board ship should be eight hours, with one rest day per week and rest on public holidays. More favourable standards could be set in legislation or collective bargaining. Member States would be called upon to ensure that either:

  • maximum hours of work do not exceed 14 hours in any 24-hour period; and 72 hours in any seven-day period; or
  • minimum hours of rest are not less than 10 hours in any 24-hour period; and 77 hours in any seven-day period.

Further regulation is seen to be required to ensure that the interval between periods of rest does not exceed 14 hours. On-call rest periods should also be compensated. Provision is also made for the limitation of night work for seafarers under 18.

National legislation or procedures could allow for exceptions to the limits stipulated in the agreement as long, as they have proper regard for the health and safety of employees aboard ship and take into account the granting of longer compensatory leave. A minimum annual leave period of four weeks is stipulated in the draft.

In order to ensure compliance with the regulations, provision should be made for the monitoring of work and rest periods.

Formal adoption of the agreement by all social partners involved in the sector is expected on 24 March 1998. If agreement is reached, the text will go forward to the Commission, with a request that it be made legally binding through a Council Directive.


The exclusion of certain sectors, including transport, from the working time Directive has long attracted criticism and was latterly termed an "anomaly" by the Commission. The Directive was at the time of its adoption heavily criticised, particularly on the part of the then UK Government, for being based on Treaty provisions on health and safety (Article 118A). It is arguably in many of those sectors excluded from the Directive that the importance of the health and safety issue in relation to long working hours is brought home home most clearly, as they are the sectors where most lives are potentially being put at risk by over-tired operatives.

The Commission is clearly now seeking an end to the exclusion of these sectors from the Directive and the agreement reached in the maritime sector could lead the way for other sectors.

The agreement is particularly significant because, if it becomes the basis for a draft Directive which is then adopted, this would constitute the first ever EU regulation springing directly from an agreement reached in the sectoral social dialogue (such Directives have already arisen from intersectoral agreements on parental leave and part-time work). (Tina Weber, ECOTEC Research and Consulting Ltd)

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