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Recovering last months salary with a contract
Posted: Friday, December 30, 2011 7:07 PM
Joined: 03/06/2008
Posts: 4

My wife and I were hired on a yacht that the current owner had owned less then a year. When we were hired, I signed a contract, (my wife was to join at a later date), and we were told that the boat would run with a captain, (who hired us), his girlfriend the stew, myself, my wife, the chef and a deckhand (who was not yet hired). I was hired as the engineer and my wife was hired as the 2nd stew. We were told the boss would use the boat at the most 2 weeks at a time maybe once a month. Within a week of my wife joining, the captain and his girlfriend quit over disagreements with the boss. Shortly after the boss decided he was not going to hire another stewardess, and at this point, he has not hired a new full time captain. (It has been 3 months.) He also rehired the old engineer the previous captain had fired as the deckhand. (He has no licenses or qualifications, including STCW '95 and has only worked on this one boat.) After learning how things were going to differ from the program we were hired into, my wife and I agreed we would try it out and see if we could make it work. From there things got more difficult as the owner decided to run the vessel like an owner operator, (without actually doing the driving), and made it extremely difficult to order parts I needed for the safety of the vessel. We had been sold on a very exciting itinerary, but instead moved 60 miles south of the border into Mexico at a comercial dock. The dock was too high to put out our boarding ladder and with the large fenders and surge, my wife could not get on or off the boat without me carrying her. (We were there for a month). The final straw for us was when the relief captain left for the holidays, we were told the owner had left the deckhand in charge as he had known him longer. I told him I was uncomfortable with that as the only licensed officer on board, especially as the deckhand was not a hard or smart worker and left the boat in what I consider unsafe conditions all the time. (Can anyone confirm this, but it is my understanding that being the only licensed person on board, I would be held legally responsible for the going ons of the vessel regardless of who the owner left in charge). I expressed my concern with this issue, but it was never resolved. All of these issues, as well as personal differences we were having with the deckhand, (he obviously never took the PSSR class...), proved to be too much and my wife decided to depart just before the holidays as the boat was not going to be used until sometime in the New Year. Despite my repeated requests, she was never given a contract. She spoke with the relief captain and it was agreed she would depart that day. I sent the owner an email letting him know the reasons for her departure and giving my resignation as well. I told him I intended to spend the holidays with my wife as this was to be our first married holiday together, and would return to the boat on the 2nd of January and we could work on a final departure date together. I was told that the boss wanted me back to the boat between christmas and the New Year, and he would consider anything else a breech of contract. I learned that at this point he did not authorize his office lady to pay our paychecks for the month of Decmeber, even though she had already determined the days my wife had worked and I was expected to finish the month. I told him that due to the personal conflict of not being able to spend the holidays with my wife, (She was going to be on the East Coast, the boat was in Baja Mexico and flying back and forth for 3 days of work between xmas and New Years was not realistic), and the issues discussed I would not be returning to the vessel. After that very long winded explanation, my I have a couple of legal questions... First, as for "breech of contract", the contract does say that I am supposed to give 30 days notice. However, while it is not laid out in the contract, there is mention of a probation period. My understanding of the probation period from verbal discussions with the previous captain was that it was a 3 month probation, during which time either party could terminate the contract for any reason. My notice was within my 3 month period. As the probation is not laid out in writing, but is mentioned, does this hold water? Second, there is nothing in the contract regarding penalties for breech of contract. Does the owner have any rights to withhold money for days worked? The contract does specify a salary breakdown for days worked less then a month. Finally, what recourses do I have to get the money owed to us by the owner? I am considering having the vessel arrested, but do not know how easy that will be in Mexico. We do not have the money to hire a lawyer up front... Are we able to reclaim any legal fees from the boss? Sorry for the long winded post, but I would really appreciate any help or advise I can get!
Posted: Monday, January 2, 2012 6:22 PM
Joined: 01/06/2008
Posts: 1064

You'll likely need a lawyer to collect.

Posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 11:52 PM
First of all you are correct regarding the three (3) month no obligation trial period, it is standard practice throughout the yachting industry. During this time neither you the employee or the vessel has an obligation to each other except your duties until the trial period is completed and you are hired on permanently or that either party terminates the contract before the trial period has been completed. Secondly I would thoroughly recommend that you do not try and arrest the vessel for a months salary because once you do this you will become a leper in the yachting industry as no owner, broker or crew agent will knowingly put you on another vessel with this issue in your background check. Thirdly, I would write a very professional letter to the owner of the vessel explaining your rights as an employee and that he does indeed owe you compensation for the days worked aboard his vessel. If this does not work seek legal advice (not action) on what your options are. good luck and I hope all works out and that 2012 is a better year.
Posted: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 2:26 AM
Hi Sam, I would be happy to give you some advice based on my own personal experience
Posted: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 11:21 PM
Joined: 19/05/2008
Posts: 52

Thanks for your question, Sam. Firstly, do you know which country’s laws govern your contract of employment? Without knowing this, you won’t know which lawyer to contact, and may waste a huge amount of money asking the wrong person. On the face of it, however, personal conflicts and being away from your wife – as lovely as she may be – are not good enough reasons to walk out on your job. You almost certainly breached your contract of employment and the costs of hiring new crew could be for your account. Does it mention a probation period in your contract? If not, then there was no probation period. Indeed, probation periods are normally to see if your employer likes you, not whether you fancy the job or not. You’d almost certainly be wasting your money arresting the yacht, and may be liable for even more damages (way more, in fact) if you arrest and then lose your case. And your wife should never have done a single day’s work without a contract in place. Sorry I can’t bring you more positive news. Benjamin Maltby, matrixLloyd™.
Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 9:05 PM
Hello, I have a similar situation, in the scence that I am also owed salary from my last job. The entire crew and I (excluding the captain) have left the vessel in question due to not being paid. It started always being one month behind on salary, then it was 2 and now 3 months for some. Every week the money is promised and every week there is another excuse why not. Between 5 crew this has added up considerabily. I saw the comment earlier about not having a vessel arrested as it can ruin your name in the industry but we are not prepared to let this go as it is alot of money, nevermind the principle of it. We do not want to creat a scandle or cause anyone any problems, we just want our hard earned money. We all have contracts and signed letters of how much we are owed, although obviously we have terminated these contracts on leaving the boat, I hope that dosnt make a difference? Please can anyone assist in how to take this further? Kind regards
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