The Agreement concerning the social security of Rhine boatmen, which was adopted by an ILO Conference in 1949, was the first multi-lateral European instrument for social security which instituted a system for coordinating social security legislation among the countries concerned in the interests of Rhine boatmen, who represent a special class of migrant workers.
The Agreement concerning the social security of Rhine boatmen was subsequently revised in 1979 (entering into force on 1 December 1983) in order to include the improvements which had been introduced in the interim by Regulation 1408/71 of the Council of the European Community concerning migrant workers.
On the history and contents of the Rhine Agreement, refer to: Helmut Creuz, Revue internationale du Travail, January/February 1981; Albert BOUR, colloque sur l’histoire de la sécurité sociale (colloquium on the history of social security) – Congrès national des sociétés savantes (National Congress of Scientific Societies), Strasbourg 5-9 April 1988).
The Contracting Parties to the Agreement are the Member States of the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine, at present specifically Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, as well asLuxembourg.
The Rhine Agreement is an instrument of coordination which applies to a specific group of migrant workers, i.e. the Rhine boatmen, according them the benefit of coordination among the various branches within the social security system, regardless of the place of employment or residence or where benefits are claimed. The major items of social security coordinated by the Agreement are the acquisition of entitlement to benefits and the aggregation of periods of activity or employment. An administrative Arrangement, signed by the competent authorities of the contracting parties on 26 November 1987, specifies the implementing rules for the application of the Agreement.
A number of the provisions of the Agreement are similar to those of Regulation 1408/71, aimed at coordinating social security systems. Regulation 1408/71 has been recently replaced by Regulation 883/2004, which entered into force on 1 May 2010. The new Regulation modifies the scope of the Rhine Agreement.
Application of the Derogation Agreement, under Regulation 883/2004
As of the entry into force of the new Regulation 883/2004, the Rhine Agreement no longer applies in signatory States that are also members of the European Union (B, D, F, L, NL).
In consideration of the longstanding tradition and the special character of the navigation on the Rhine, the signatory States of the Rhine Agreement that are also members of the European Union have nonetheless concluded the “Agreement on determination of legislation applicable to Rhine boatmen, concluded on the basis of Article 16(1) of Regulation (EC) 883/2004” (Derogation Agreement concerning legislation applicable to Rhine boatmen), which entered into force on 11 February 2011, with retroactive affect as of 1 May 2010.
Switzerland has decided to apply Regulation 883/2004 as of 1 April 2012 and has become a party to the Derogation Agreement by means of a codicil (hypertext link) which came into force on 8 August 2012, with retroactive effect as of 1 April 2012.
The Rhine Agreement continues to apply within all contracting States.
The Administrative Centre for the social security of Rhine boatmen was created based on a tripartite structure. Every national delegation comprises two government representatives, one representative of Rhine navigation employers’ and one representative of salaried Rhine boatmen. The two representatives are appointed by the governments, with the agreement of the most representative organisations from among the Rhine navigation employers and the salaried Rhine boatmen. The chair of the Administrative Centre is rotated annually among government representatives.
The main responsibility of the Administrative Centre is to address any issues concerning interpretation or application of the provisions defined in the Rhine Agreement. The Centre can adopt resolutions which are deemed as authoritative interpretations of the Rhine Agreement.
The Centre also has the responsibility of providing assistance to individuals subject to the Rhine Agreement, specifically to Rhine boatmen and members of their families, helping them to settle individual cases . This unique and effective task is worth underscoring, since it allows a large number of individual cases to be resolved swiftly without the need for legal action.
It is intended to further develop the responsibilities of the Administrative Centre in order to reflect adoption of the Derogation Agreement concerning applicable legislation.