International Labour Organization (ILO)

Advancing social justice, promoting decent work

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is devoted to advancing opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Its main aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue in handling work-related issues.


The ILO marks its Centenary in 2019 and, in promoting social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights, the organization continues to pursue its founding mission that labour peace is essential to prosperity. Today, the ILO helps advance the creation of decent jobs and the kinds of economic and working conditions that give working people and business people a stake in lasting peace, prosperity and progress.The ILO aims to achieve a high number of ratifications in its Centenary year. The ILO Centenary Ratification Campaign invites governments, trade unions and employers’ organizations in all 187 member States of the Organization to take action to ensure that their State ratifies at least one international labour Convention or Protocol in the course of 2019.


The ILO has always given special consideration to the maritime sector. Since the 1920s, it has adopted a large number of international labour standards specific to shipping, fishing, inland waterways and ports. The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, as amended – brought together nearly all of the instruments for seafarers in a single, comprehensive Convention. This Convention has now been ratified by 93 States representing 91% of world gross tonnage of merchant ships, and is on its way to universality. The comprehensive Convention regulates, among others, the minimum age, employment agreements, hours of work or rest, payment of wages, paid annual leave, repatriation at the end of contract, onboard medical care, the use of licensed private recruitment and placement services, accommodation, food and catering, health and safety protection and accident prevention and seafarers’ complaint handling.


The fisheries sector makes vital contributions to global nutrition, food security and supports the livelihoods of many. An estimated 56.6 million people are engaged in the primary sector of fisheries and aquaculture, 38 million of whom are engaged in capture fisheries. Ensuring that decent working conditions are accessible to all fishers can be accomplished through the ratification and enforcement of sector specific international standards such as the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) and Recommendation (No. 199). These standards have been developed in response to the specific needs of workers in the fishing sector, and set minimum standards for work on board fishing vessels. Convention No. 188 entered into force in November 2018 after receiving the requisite ten ratifications from member States.

Oceans, Gender and the ILO

According to the World Bank, women account for 47 per cent of the 120 million people working in fishing and the related industries such as processing. In the aquaculture sector women account for 70 per cent of the workers. In the shipping sector well-known statistic is that women seafarers make up 1-2 per cent of the global seafaring force. The highest number of women can be found working on passenger vessels as part of the hotel staff. The maritime world has traditionally been identified as a “man`s world”. Women have had to adjust to this work environment shaped by men for men. Moreover, the struggle for gender equality remains in large part a “women’s issue”. 

More women are likely to be attracted to the maritime sector if decent working conditions are emphasized, and improving their work and living conditions. Further, more opportunities for women seafarers should be provided at all stages of their career. Enhancing their participation through encouraging their representation and leadership in the sector ensures that they are not only recognized as key to the sector but are able to effectively shape their world of work. The maritime community has a number of parts: companies, trade unions, seafarers' and fishers` welfare organizations, and others. They each may have a role in furthering women in the sector. The gender perspective has to be included in the designing, executing and monitoring of policies taking into account the specific interests and issues of women within the various sub-sectors

The ILO`s Women at Work Initiative aims  to identify and understand why delivering on decent work for women has been slow and what needs to be done towards securing a better future for women at work. This is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5): Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation. There is greater awareness that gender equality is of paramount importance in efforts to reduce poverty and boost economic development.

Sectoral Meeting on the Recruitment and Retention of Seafarers and the Promotion of Opportunities for Women Seafarers

Representatives from governments, shipowners and seafarer organizations, as well as intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, met in Geneva between 25 February and 1 March and adopted conclusions on measures to improve the attractiveness of seafaring for young people, to retain experienced seafarers, and to ensure diversity and opportunities for all, including women and groups vulnerable to discrimination.

This tripartite meeting had a high participation of women from the maritime community, with some empowering stories being shared during the plenary sessions, highlighting just how important it is to have women present in discussions that affect their livelihood. The outcomes of the Meeting called on the various stakeholders to continue to advance decent working conditions for women seafarers.

The outcomes and conclusions of these meeting also call on the ILO to continue and further its work in the promotion of opportunities for women seafarers, through means such as conducting research on women seafarers in the industry, partnering with other organizations, the promotion of its Conventions and further promote diversity and inclusion in the industry.



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