Help! I’ve Made a Bad Hire!

5 May 2011 By Claire Griffiths

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A drunkand disorderly deckhand? Bring it on. Breach of contract by the chef? Noproblem, we’ve got the rulebook for those situations. Sack ’em down thegangplank and sleep sound as a baby. Guide lines for dismissal are contained inarticles 9 and 11 of the British Merchant Navy Code of Conduct explains Capt.Evariste Martine of M/Y African Cat, who ruefully adds that if you arenot a British citizen or resident, recourse for wrongful dismissal is tough.

But whencrew turn out to be crashing bores, mind-bendingly annoying or just plain“wrong” for the job, things get tricky.

“Youcan’t just sack someone because they turn out to be a bit strange severalmonths down the line from their trial period,” says Capt. Andy Golightly of M/YAustralis. There’s no real way of telling if a new crewmember will morphinto a fruitcake the minute the ink dries on the employment contract. “You needto take the trial period seriously,” Golightly says. “It’s the only time youcan get rid of someone and you’ve got to be sure you’re doing the right thing.”Crewwho do “rock the boat” down in the mess need to be handled carefully. “Giveeveryone a chance,” suggests Golightly. “A quiet chat to say things need tochange [can make the difference]. People fall out with each other – one monththey’re friends, the next they’re not.”

But it’snot just character flaws or bad conduct that turn crew into square pegs tryingto fit into round holes – sometimes it’s just bad luck. “If the owner takes adislike to [the] crewmember, there’s not much anyone can do,” explains Capt.Murray of M/Y Lady Christine. “It’s the owner’s boat at the end of theday, despite all the rules and regulations. If the owner takes a dislike tosomeone, usually there’s a reason – like they’re lazy on deck – but it alldepends on each individual case,” says Murray. “Things and people can change,”he adds. “You’re working in a really close community on board – attitudeschange, but you have to have a really good reason to fire someone.”

Murrayhas heard of plenty of cases in which crew were sacked unfairly – such as thecaptain who lost his job because the chief stew started dating the owner andshe wanted to get rid of him, for example. Foreign languages alien to yourskill set can be tricky, too. “I know of a captain working for a Russian ownerwho had a Russian stew. Without [the captain’s] knowledge, she undermined himand his command to the point where she managed to get him fired,” Murrayrecounts.

For LizCox, Senior Yacht Manager at Edmiston, “wrong” crew aren’t necessarily in thewrong. “Hand overs to new owners often are tricky to handle when the new ownerwants to replace the existing crew. The only way to [deal with] it is to havean open and honest discussion with the crew – treat them fairly, pay themappropriately, give them good references and do what you can to help them findwork because the situation is not their fault,” advises Cox. Some owners giveexisting crew a chance, but not all, “It happens fairly frequently and it oftendepends on the age of the boat and the experience of the crew,” she says.


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