Updated at 5.27pm: The International Labour Organisation says plans are underway to improve the working conditions of the world's maritime workers - who often face considerable hardship and exploitation. The ILO said on Tuesday the first Maritime Session of the International Labour Conference was meeting in Geneva this week to address the issue. The conference is considering establishing a new international labour instrument - the Maritime Labour Convention. This would help stop unfair treatment of maritime workers and help ensure their rights, health and safety were protected. The ILO said the proposed convention would outline decent work conditions for the world's 1.2 million seafarers. It covers health, safety, minimum age, recruitment, hours of work and other issues. If applied, the convention will consolidate and update more than 65 international maritime labour instruments adopted over the last 80 years. ILO director-general Juan Somavia said: 'The Maritime Labour Convention is an important strategic move forward in the ILO's promotion of its decent work agenda.' 'The real challenge is to make sure that these provisions will be applied and enforced worldwide, just like the international provisions designed to secure safety at sea and combat marine pollution', added Mr Somavia. The plight of Asia's maritime workers is also a concern. Indeed, about five months ago, a Hong Kong-registered ship sparked a controversy in Australian waters, when unions alleged that the crew was earning only US$300 (HK$2,327) a month. One official went so far as to refer to it as 'a floating sweatshop.' Monitoring incidents like this, in which the ship owners refused inspections, may be reduced if the new convention is adopted. The convention is intended to achieve near universal compliance by operators and owners of ships. Provisions for complaint procedures available to seafarers - for the shipowners' and shipmasters' supervision of conditions on their ships - will create a system that will help ensure these standards are enforced. The ILO is proposing a simplified amendment procedure, enabling the convention to keep up with changes in shipping operations and technology. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, a director of the ILO's International Labour Standards Department said the convention also aimed to prevent unfair competition. 'Everybody involved in shipping has a part to play in making this Convention come to life. Knowledge of the convention will become essential for anyone seeking to own, operate or regulate ships or to work at sea,' she explained.