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Crew Contracts: Read the Fine Print

Mar 19th 09
By Benjamin Maltby, MatrixLloyd

As the Med season gets under way next month, many of you will be thinking of new positions, or perhaps be coming to the superyacht industry afresh. Either way, sooner or later, a contract of employment will be plonked down in front of you with the instruction to “sign here”. So, should you?

Let’s start with a couple of clear facts:

Firstly, there are still idiots out there who are happy to do more than casual dayworking without a written contract of employment. If and when you get stiffed and don’t receive the money you thought you were entitled to, without a contract in place there’s little or no recourse. (Check out the recent forum on Crew holiday pay as an example.)

In my experience, it’s the owners/managers/captains who don’t bother with contracts that are far more likely to stiff crewmembers. They’re just less bothered with formality, paperwork or liabilities.

Secondly, if you sign whatever is put down in front of you rather than taking it away, reading it fully, and preferably seeking professional advice on it, then your employer may think you’re a dupe from day one and take advantage of this later.

The place to start is at the end, with the “Law & Jurisdiction” clause. This may or may not be the same as the flag state. It’s crucial, as many laws automatically provide employees with a raft of rights. The jurisdictions of small island states may not have an efficient (and so, cheap) employment tribunal established. The most favourable is that of England, as European Union law provides a wide range of rights, yet the contract will be intelligible. Employment law in the U.S. gives workers far fewer rights than some in Europe would be used to or comfortable with.

Then turn back to the beginning:

Who is your employer going to be? If it’s an owning company with no other assets than the yacht, if the vessel should be repossessed or the company runs out of money, then you could be left high and dry. (See my article on “Repos on the Rise, What Are Your Rights”, posted 18-3-09). You may not have an option, but if you can be employed by the boss directly, or by one of the boss’s land-based companies, rather than by an owning company, then so much the better.

Are your working hours said to be limited? Is that limit fair? Is it practical? Is it legal? (The governing law and relevant flag state will affect this.) Will it force you to break the law, incur criminal liability and potentially lead to your being liable for parking the yacht on the rocks through tiredness?

Are the grounds for instant dismissal too wide? Could they give your employer grounds for firing you because – in reality – the owner just feels like a change? This is happening all the time, and it always surprises me how quickly good relations with the boss can sour.

Is the probationary period – during which instant termination by either side is normally allowed to make for a cooling-off period – unreasonably long?

Do you have a right to be repatriated after your employment is terminated, or at least repatriate yourself and recover the cost of your flight(s)? There are international legal conventions covering minimum rights – but so often these are ignored.

Will you be allowed study leave on the boat’s time, or will this come out of your hard-earned vacation time?

If you’re not the captain, should you have a formal crew agreement? Many Red Ensign flag states require this, and it must be approved each time by the flag state as containing certain minimum legal employment rights. Yet normally, this requirement is ignored.

Does the agreement contain a confidentiality clause that has been drawn so tightly that it’ll be difficult to get the proper advice later in the event of a dispute?

The best option – especially for captains seeking a long-term relationship directly with an owner (which might lead to working on a number of different yachts in the same ownership or as a build captain) – is to invest in having the contract reviewed by a lawyer. Even in today’s market, you may or may not want to haggle over the salary, but you should never be afraid to haggle over other terms. Owners have nothing but respect for this no-nonsense approach; it will show a triumph of detail over greed on your part.




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  • Debbie having had the displeasure of meeting you a couple of years back in a crew house in Fort Lauderdale, I can safely say that you are neither smart, dignified or even reasonable and after having left on a yacht, heard that you had been kicked out of unmentioned crew house and that the owner had to pay you to leave as you didn't even have petrol money for your car. Sorry if I sound spiteful but I am surprised you are even still able to get work in the industry at all given your attitude.
    Posted by Caroline Freedman 30/03/2009 14:00:59

  • Sorry Shadf, a crew agent must represent the interests of the crew.... this is implied in law.

    " Members are required to exercise control over crew placement services.

    The c.a. is to monitor crew agencies’ standard of compliance. Grievance procedures are to be established.

    Undue proliferation of private placement services shall not be encouraged

    Reg. 1.4 stipulates that sefarers are to have access to an accountable system for finding employment, without charge to the seafarer.

    Standard A1.4
    Members’ private crew agencies shall: keep a register of placements; inform seafarers of their rights and duties; provide means to examine employment agreements; check those agreements; check the seaman’s qualifications; check that the shipowner has the means to prevent the stranding of the seafarer in a foreign port; examine and respond to a seaman’s complaints and inform authorities as appropriate; and provide (or insure) against a seaman’s monetary loss if the recruiter or employer fails to meet their obligations. "
    Posted by monback 29/03/2009 10:32:15

  • Debbie, what you are suggesting about crew placement negotiating your contracts for you is a little like asking a match maker to write your pre-nup and handle your divorce. If you expect crew placement to do anything more than put your name in front of people in a position to hire someone looking for your qualifications, then you are always going to be disappointed. They're head hunters, not a sports agent.
    Posted by ShadF 28/03/2009 22:11:23

  • Take off that silly hat
    Posted by Chef Peter_1 28/03/2009 14:23:53

  • If you think most yachts are graciously giving out crew contracts, then you might as well point the "idiot" index at yourself.
    People are starving for jobs and are willing to trust those crew members who shouldn’t be trusted when it comes to pay. Most megas might give out contracts to temp and perm, but most others rarely do especially to those who do temp or freelance.

    If you want to be smart about all this, why not mention crew agencies as well? Agents who are representing candidates [not just the other way around] should be at the frontline when it comes to helping to protect crew candidates. Many are nothing more than ‘middle men’ instead of paying mind to contracts, whether they are signed, credit card information on file incase the candidate is not paid in full [SUE, you lazy fat head]. I’ll give you an example, Crew Unlimited. On my third yacht job, I was supposed to sign a three month contract but was never told of such contract until my last day of work. The snivelling captain and I came up with a daily rate, but he never delivered after I left the boat. Wow, what a surprise. Did my agent from this agency come to my rescue? Of course not. But what she and the pathetic owner of this agency did for me was ban me from their agency. Ahh yes. I love smart and dignified people, don't you?
    Posted by Debbie_1 27/03/2009 16:31:00

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