The good old days are only over when you start to look back at them and squint. But romanticism aside, we all can clearly observe changes occurring in the yachting industry and we're undoubtedly aware that it's evolving; more rules and less freedom, more definition and less interpretation seem to be the order of the modern day.
Despite the pressure we’re under and the inevitable encroachment of legislation in our daily lives, we are, it would seem, surprisingly complacent about protecting our greater interests as a demographic group.
At this very moment several institutions are championing various causes on behalf of yachties the world over: The PYA is lobbying hard to ensure the MLC amendments are palatable. Groups in Fort Lauderdale are pushing the local city to make sure that affordable crew accommodations remain legal. Even the MCA is scrutinizing everything the training schools do so standards are maintained and corners not cut in delivering training.
Despite these isolated initiatives, the industry as a whole remains disparate and is characterized by many varied and competing interests operating independently. This usually ticks along unnoticed until a particular event causes the spotlight to shine on the flaws in the perfect façade of yachting.
One such occasion was recent murder of a crewmember in St. Maarten, where there was a very mixed reaction as some yachts stayed and some left. Whether or not there should have been a uniform reaction is not my contention. What is of interest is that there is not a single body that crew typically turn to, not one body which will listen to their opinions and inform, advise or coordinate unified action. Whether it is a response to a security threat or a reaction to the imposition of new policies.
But do crew care? Well, apparently the great majority does not. The forums are full of posts at odds with the rules and laws we face with few valid points of view. One has to wonder if energies would be better spent informing policy rather than whinging about it. Crew security, social security, mandatory rest periods, accommodation standards, local security concerns and training requirements are all issues are discussed far from the “coal face.” This inevitably means that there is astonishingly little representation. Those representing crew are not accountable or elected by the majority, they are simply recognized by the legislators and the “powers that be.” The fact is that these chosen few are, in most cases, busting their chops to improve things for the average yachtie. But do the majority of yachties know that?
To most yachties the concept of a union is revolting. But as we see in the Arab world, the concept of revolting requires union. To inform change there must be some form of group proffering some form of alternative from the status quo. So where does one go to suggest changes to the present way of doing things? Facebook, Dockwalk who cares? Well, you should! The opinion of crew is important, particularly where procurement is involved. Check out the crew lounges at a marina near you if you are in any doubt so the voice is definitely there.
A revolt is a little far fetched and a union unlikely but from time to time crew could get together and inform change or lobby in their own interests. All you have to do is find the place to be heard. There are people listening!
|After 14 years in yachting, I have worked with over 1000 crew members on more than 60 yachts. I am not a permanent crew member but "temporary" personnel and believe me when I tell you that I have seen nearly everything you could see on a yacht.|
I have thought for years now that one of the issues yacht crew need help with most are legal, financial and human rights issues in particular. Yacht crew generally have no job contracts, no job security and no organization they can turn to for help if they get a bad deal. In normal business, you are hired based on your experience, qualifications and what you can bring to the team. You have a 3 month trial period where it will be decided whether you stay or you go. I have never seen contracts in yachting, except for Captains and Officers. I have seen crew members get hired and never get paid and they have no recourse or any help in legally getting their money. This happened to a friend of mine that stepped in to help a yacht who's stewardesses all left and were going on charter in 2 days. She worked her fingers off for 2 months and never got paid a dime. I tried to help her but we could find no avenues for her to lobby to get her pay. She was out several thousand dollars.
My husband worked for a very very rich woman years ago and she still owes him $3,000. He worked on her yacht and they had no chef and literally no food onboard. Only coffee and tea, no bread, butter, not even milk or sugar and $15 per day for your food, to be eaten onshore, in Europe no less! Of course, he will never see that money and never had a chance in getting it with no recourse for her or her Captain.
I have seen crew members get fired on the spot, be told they are to pack their bags and be on the dock in 20 mins. and literally, as their feet touch the land the yacht pulls away.
Last summer after finishing a charter we were on a dock in Naples literally in the middle of nowhere, everything was closed and it was at night. The captain fired a temp stew who'd been on board for 4 months and literally left her on the dock. She had her 2 bags, a plane ticket out at 8am the next day, no phone and hardly any cash. Her tips, he said, would be deposited into her account later! He did not call a taxi or transport for her and she was alone, in the middle of nowhere at night in one of the worst high crime cities in Italy, by herself. Luckily, since our charter was over, I was also standing on the dock with her. A car was coming for me and I fortunately knew the Capt. of the yacht that had been docked next to us. In the pouring rain he let us stand on his aft deck until my taxi arrived. I took her to my hotel, she stayed with me and I got her to the airport the next day. Seriously folks. This is not a one-off or isolated incident.
It should not matter whether you are temporary or permanent crew.
Yachting industry personnel can do whatever they like as far as treatment of crew members is concerned and there is no person or international organization or body they must answer to. This, in my opinion, is one of the "real" reasons why some yachts don't want to hire Americans. Because we know what our rights are and we don't tolerate abuse in that way. We have worked very long and very very hard to protect our rights, not just in American, but worldwide. They will instead hire the young S. African or Australian and use them up for 3 months and dump them on the dock with nothing. It happens all the time.
Honestly, what other industry in the world do you know where you MUST have a photograph of yourself on your CV? Except for maybe modelling or fashion, there are not many, that's for sure. I have worked in the music, film and arts industries before and i have never ever put my photo on my CV before yachting.
Incidentally, I just worked on a yacht recently where the owner states that he will not hire any "girls" over a size 6 (there are no uniforms larger than this onboard) and now requires new prospects to send a photo of them in a bikini if they want the job! And this is a huge, brand new yacht.
It is no secret that sexism, discrimination, chauvenism. bigotry, homophobia and nepotism are all rife within this industry. It's all ok until it happens to you, and then what? Who do you turn to? It's much more than crew quarters, MLC requirements, insurance, codes of conduct, etc. It's about human rights. This is what needs protecting.
Everyone has rights and no matter who you are, what country you are from, what color your skin is, what size you wear, or how much money you have or don't have, no one deserves to be treated like a piece of toilet paper. Anyone who thinks that crew have plenty of organizations to turn to for help is fooling themselves. Unless they know something that all the rest of us don't...and if they do, then hopefully they can shed some light on this subject for all of us. Temporary, permanent, short-term or long-term, we are all humans and we are all in the "same boat".
Posted by: Heather Hawthorne at 02/05/2011 06:32