Both the Constitution of the ILO and many ILO instruments seek to take account of national circumstances and provide for some flexibility in application of Conventions, with a view to gradually improving protection of workers, by taking into account the specific situation in some sectors and the diversity of national circumstances. Flexibility is usually based on principles of tripartism, transparency and accountability. When flexibility with respect to a Convention is exercised by a government it usually involves consultation with the workers’ and employers’ organizations concerned, with any determinations that are made reported to the ILO by the government concerned. This is seen as a necessary and important approach to ensuring that all countries, irrespective of national circumstances, can engage with the international legal system and that international obligations are respected and implemented, to the extent possible, while also making efforts to improve conditions. This is particularly important for an international industry such as shipping.
The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 generally follows this approach as well as also providing for additional flexibility, relevant to the sector, at a national level. The Convention seeks to be “firm on rights and flexible on implementation”. A major obstacle to the ratification of existing maritime labour Conventions is the excessive detail in many of them. The new Convention sets out the basic rights of seafarers to decent work in firm statements, but leaves a large measure of flexibility to ratifying countries as to how they will implement these standards for decent work in their national laws.