The Merchant Shipping Act 1970 *

AuthorNorman Lewis
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1971.tb02312.x
Publication Date01 Jan 1971
STATIJTES
THE
MERCHANT
SHIPPING ACT
1970"
THE Merchant Shipping Act has dragged the employment conditions
of merchant seamen and fishermen kicking and screaming into the
nineteenth century. The Act, essentially an enabling measure,
ranges over
a
number
of
issues but is basically concerned with
terms and conditions of employment and replaces,
inter
alia,
Part
I1
of the
1804
Act.
The world of seamen has remained largely
a
closed book to
labour lawyers and
a
cursory glance at this enactment explains why.
One is immediately thrown back inlto an ethos predating the
Employers and Workmen Act
1875
wahen the otherwise quaint
phrase
''
master and servant
"
assumes
a
health and vigour un-
known to the current generation of law students. Perhaps
a
little
social perspective is called for in underlining this phenomenon.
Speaking
of
the revolution in labour law worked by the
1875
Act the
then Home Secretary remarked
:
''
For
the future, contracts of
hiring and service shall be
as
free and independent both for master
and servant as any other contracts between other persons." Nearly
twenty years later the Merchant Shipping Act
1804,
consolidating
in substance measures dating back to
1850,
preached imprisonment
and forfeiture of wages for desertion, imprisonment for disobeying
lawful commands and further criminal penalties for inducing a
breach of contract of employment
(or
"
articles
"
in the language
of the sea). These shackles remain intact until the appointed day
for the operation of the
19'70
Act.
It
is
a
long-suffering and unin-
dulgent work-force which
has
remained placid before such
restrictions. This is not the place
to
speculate on the reasons for
passivity in the face of legislative and industrial hostility but
it
is
alien territory which the lawyer enters when embarking on an
investigation into the labour conditions of the shipping industry.
The Act is not without merit, especially in the matter
of
what
look to be stricter safety measures (though given the essentially
regulatory nature of the statute it would be premature
to
form
conclusions) and the removal of the iniquitous discharge report
system. Even
so
'the striking feature remains the retention of dis-
ciplinary provisions which
no
shore-worker would tolerate for
a
moment-of which more later.
*
No
part
of
the Act is yet in force. Many sections simply confer
a
power
to
make regulations after consultations wit11 both sides
of
the industry, and it
is not intended
to
make the Act effective until
a
considerable body
of
regtila-
tions
has
been agreed upon. Consultations
are
taking place at present, but it
may
be
some
time before they are completed.
Quoted Howell,
.4
Haiidg
Book
oj
the
Labour Laws,
(1895).
55

To continue reading

Request your trial