How Far Would You Go for a Job?

2 July 2009 By Joanne MacKenzie

Recently, when we were provisioning in Monaco, a guy came to us in the market and said, “You obviously work on a boat. Is your boat looking for crew right now?”

If walking the docks has extended to walking the aisles of the grocery store, how far will people go to get a job or keep one?

The chief stew of a 147-footer says her boss laid off six of their nine crew and cut her salary by two thirds. “There was no severance and no warning,” she says. “The owner said he needed to cut back on costs, but he only did it because he has the recession card to play.” She went from working fulltime to working two days a week, but with more work to do. “I stayed on because I need the insurance,” she says, adding, “I’ve worked for him for three years. There’s just no loyalty. I’ll stay until I can find something else or go back to working on land.”

So are owners taking advantage of a bad situation? The former chef of a 150-footer says they are. Recently, she received a call from an owner looking for a chef. When they discussed pay, he said she needed to go down by at least a thousand a month. He told her, “For years, owners have been getting raped by crew for high pay. It’s the owner’s turn to have the advantage and time for the crew to take the hit.”

The chef says, “He seems to forget what he’s paying for. Yes, this is a money-driven business, but I work very long hours, share a small cabin with whomever, and I’m at the beck and call of guests…. I’m not going to over-compromise myself because an owner is trying to get a deal.” She says she’s doing freelance work until she finds something she feels is reasonable.

A chef and stew on a 37-metre boat says when owners hire “bargain crew” it can mean they're compromising safety. They say their captain, “…is not really a captain. He’s an engineer with a captain’s license. He doesn’t know what he is doing and doesn’t know what to tell the new crew. We really don’t think he’s safe.” However, they’re afraid to leave because they’re worried about finding another job.

The chef on a 70-metre yacht says it’s not only the owners who are taking advantage of the recession. “Whether it’s a question about schedule, pay rise or anything that requires an otherwise reasonable response, our captain’s answer to everything is, ‘Just be lucky you have a job.’ The morale on our boat is crap.”

A couple working on a charter boat in the Med say “lucky” isn’t how they feel about their current boat, but they’ve lowered their expectations: “There just aren’t the good boats you can jump on right now…so as bad as this is, we’re going to stick it out.”

On the other hand, some crew are choosing to leave the industry or take a break, rather than compromise. A deckhand looking for work says he’s decided, “I’m not going to keep chasing work that’s not there. I’m going to travel for the summer till things look more promising and positive.”

What have you been forced to do to get or keep your job?