The working conditions of sailors - including those working on foreign vessels - will get legal protection, according to a regulation which comes into force on September 1.
The rule, the first of its kind, orders employers to give sailors a five-day paid break once they have spent two months aboard a vessel, in addition to legal holidays, and health, unemployment and retirement insurance.
Promulgated on April 30 by the State Council, China's highest administrative body, the regulation will benefit 1.55 million Chinese sailors, the largest number in the world.
Agencies or shipping companies that assign sailors to foreign ships should sign labor contracts, pay for insurance and guarantee their holidays.
If the rights of sailors are violated on board foreign vessels, domestic agencies that send them will be penalized, Li Enhong, director of the seafarers department with the China Maritime Safety Administration (CMSA), said in an interview.
According to the regulation, agencies that cheat or provide false information to sailors will be fined 30,000-150,000 yuan (US$3,900-19,700), and agencies that do not sign labor contracts will be fined 50,000-250,000 yuan (US$6,600-32,800).
In serious cases, the business licenses of agencies can be suspended for two to six months, or even revoked.
"The administration will carry out checks later this year to see if agencies are in compliance with the regulation and root out those which are not," Li said.
About a third of the country's sailors work on ocean-going vessels; and nearly 40,000 sailors work on foreign-flag ships.
Liu Gongcheng, deputy director of CMSA, told a press conference yesterday that major problems that sailors encounter include delayed payment, salaries pocketed by agencies, lack of labor contracts, no holidays and poor working conditions.
"The regulation can help strengthen the management of sailors, guarantee maritime safety and prevent ships polluting the water," Liu said.
Figures from international maritime sources indicate that sailors and human factors are to blame for 80 percent of maritime accidents around the world.
(China Daily June 19, 2007)