Help Setting Up a Welfare Board

Minimum Standards

Posted 3rd August 2020



At the commencement of ISWAN’s pilot project to establish welfare boards (National Seafarers Welfare Boards (NSWBs) and Port Welfare Committees (PWCs)) there is understood to be only a small number of each in existence. Those that do exist are located in various countries around the world and all of these will, as a priority, be registered on a database and invited to join the project. It is generally acknowledged that there is no “one size fits all” rule for welfare boards and the structure, role and membership of each will therefore depend on governments, local policies, social, cultural and geographical norms and a willingness to participate. Nevertheless ISWAN and the project executive committee believe that to be formally recognised and properly effective, welfare boards need to meet a minimum operational criterion.

The ultimate intention of the project is to establish a global network of welfare boards, which should greatly improve the quality of welfare provision for seafarers in ports around the world. In an ideal situation, for countries where there is more than one port, there is enormous benefit in establishing an NSWB as this can act in a co-ordinating and supportive role for all seafarers’ welfare organisations within its borders, especially PWCs.

ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006) Regulation 4.4 and the accompanying standard A4.4 of the MLC,2006 places an obligation upon ratifying countries to promote the development of welfare facilities in designated ports to provide seafarers that are in its ports with access to adequate welfare facilities and services. Committees operating in ratifying countries are obliged to adhere to the legislation implementing this Regulation in their country.

In addition to the above, the MLC,2006 includes a number of guidelines on the matter. These guidelines are not mandatory and are for the consideration of Governments who may wish to include some or all of the contents in their legislation. Notwithstanding, the contents of Guidelines B4.4.1 to 4.4.5 inclusive are considered best practice. Therefore it is suggested that Governments from non-ratifying countries and those considering setting up either NSWBs or PWCs takes account of the guidelines and, if considered appropriate, base their boards and committees on these. Follow links for further information on associated Regulation, Standard and Guidelines

Welfare Boards – Minimum Standards

The minimum standards for welfare boards at national and local levels are set as follows:

National (or State) Seafarers Welfare Boards Should:


Port(s) Welfare Committees (regional or single port) Should:

*ISWAN has agreed there will be no membership costs associated with new welfare boards participating for the duration of the pilot project. Terms and conditions for new welfare boards joining ISWAN as part of a major project will be addressed in due course. Contact ISWAN directly for information on full membership

ISWAN accepts that, at least in the development stages of a welfare board, not all organisations will agree to participate. Ideally governmental support is important as they have responsibilities contained within MLC 2006 and can influence potential members.

In an ideal situation NSWBs will have access to sufficient funds to pay meeting costs and probably a part-time administrator – these costs should be minimal. Notwithstanding ISWAN believes that, if there is enough willingness to establish an NSWB, then the members will cover their own travel costs, provide a meeting room and appoint a person, seconded from a member organisation, or volunteer, to act as manager/administrator. Nonetheless, those ports specially selected to be supported by the pilot project will be provided with funds to assist with the organisation of NSWB meetings.

PWCs themselves should not need financial support. By definition the members will all be locally based and almost inevitably one will have access to a meeting venue. The manager/administrator would need to be seconded from a member organisation, or be a volunteer. Nonetheless, those ports specially selected to be supported by the pilot project will be provided with funds to assist with the organisation of PWC meetings.

It is stressed that the primary functions of a welfare board are the coordination, promotion and support of port welfare services to seafarers and not fundraising. Nonetheless, once a welfare board has been established, fundraising can be supported and monitored to ensure shore based welfare services are properly financed in accordance with MLC, 2006 guidelines as follows:

MLC 2006 – Guideline B4.4.4 – Financing of welfare facilities

1. In accordance with national conditions and practice, financial support for port welfare facilities should be made available through one or more of the following:

(a) grants from public funds;
(b) levies or other special dues from shipping sources;
(c) voluntary contributions from shipowners, seafarers, or their organizations; and
(d) voluntary contributions from other sources.

2. Where welfare taxes, levies and special dues are imposed, they should be used only for the purposes for which they are raised.

Membership of ISWAN
ISWAN has been established as the secular international umbrella organisation for seafarers’ welfare and has the support of the ILO, ship owners (via the ISF), ITF (representing the seafarers), some government agencies and numerous voluntary societies. Historically it was founded to promote the global adoption of ILO Conventions covering seafarers’ welfare. The majority of these conventions have been subsumed into MLC 2006, which is now in force and being ratified around the world.

ISWAN and its supporters are anxious to not only encourage the establishment of welfare boards at national, regional/port level, but also recruit them as active members. This will substantially increase opportunities to improve seafarers’ welfare and greatly improve networking on a global basis. To benefit from this project it is a requirement that those welfare boards being supported must agree to become members of ISWAN. Therefore, all new welfare boards will automatically become provisional members in the initial stages of the project – details for full ISWAN membership are currently under consideration. Contact ISWAN via for further information.