Terms of Employment – permanent, contract, Payment and remittances, hours of work
The pattern of employing seafarers has changed significantly over the last twenty to thirty years. Traditionally a shipping company employed the seafarers it required to crew their vessels directly. Many of these seafarers had a company contract like counterparts ashore. This engendered a sense of loyalty in both the ship owners and the seafarers. Seafarers would tend to move on to a ‘better’ company if terms and conditions were not acceptable.
A high percentage of seafarers are now engaged through manning agents. These are simply employment agencies that maintain a list of seafarers and place them in jobs as a ship owner has a requirement.
This can, in some cases, mean that the sense of connection, continuity, employment security and loyalty between ship owner and the people who operate their ships has been lost.
The ship’s port agent is an important contact in unusual circumstances, such as a seafarer being left behind by a ship. The agent is responsible to the principal (usually the ship-owner) and has a duty to look after the needs of the ship and personnel throughout the vessel’s stay in port. The agent will, therefore have up to date knowledge of the ship’s business including schedule, status (regarding immigration etc.), arrangements for repatriation/medical/dental needs and a range of contacts in the port area.
Seafarers are recruited from all over the world and are drawn from a range of religious and cultural backgrounds. It is not possible to have detailed knowledge of the cultures of all of those with whom you might have contact and so it is important to be conscious of differences and have respect for others.
The ‘ideal’ ship’s complement is often considered to be one made up of a single nationality. However, it is more likely that the officers will be one nationality and the crew another, although many ships now have multi-cultural crews with mixed nationality personnel drawn from all over the world. This can make seafaring increasingly lonely as seafarers struggle to find common language, attitudes, beliefs and interests amongst ship-mates.
The reason for the mixture is economic. Ship owners seek the cheapest crews in order to be competitive. Prior to STCW 95 this sometimes led to sub-standard operations but the new standards for certification and training promote a global standard of competence regardless of the crewing pool from which seafarers are recruited. The International Transport Federation, the international voice of maritime and other transport trade unions, endeavours to achieve standard terms and conditions of employment for all seafarers. They argue that beside the issues of human rights, this will also have the benefit of removing an advantage for ship owners employing cheap (substandard?) crews.
Some ship-owners experimented with ‘flagging out’ ships and employing cheap crews, but not all of these have maintained the position. Some found that the apparently cheaper option was not actually beneficial in the longer term as maintenance of ships suffered and mishaps resulted in increased insurance premiums (though it must not be assumed that a flag of convenience automatically infers substandard ships). Some replaced their own nationals in officer ranks with cheaper crew from South Asia or South East Asia. This had the advantage of utilising well trained and qualified personnel in critical management roles and cheaper labour for operational and support functions.
Some ship-owners also like to employ Asian or Filipino junior officers and their own nationals in senior ranks. This has led to concerns that a ‘glass ceiling’ has developed for such junior officers and also that sources for own national senior officers will dry up if junior officer places are not available to them.
Seafarers are recruited all over the world but major crewing areas include Philippines, South East Asia and China. In global terms these seafarers are paid low wages and work longer contracts (which reduces the travel cost of repatriation and relief crews). As groups of seafarers become better established and qualified, their cost tends to rise and ship owners look for new sources of cheap labour. There has been talk of Africa becoming a future major source of seafarers.
Wages and allotments
Laws vary from country to country but in this and subsequent sections a representative overview of requirements is outlined.
Subject to specific exceptions, seafarers’ wages are to be paid
- in full when the seafarer leaves the ship or
- at intervals not exceeding one month. Additional payments, such as overtime, are to be paid in the following pay cycle.
If wages due are not paid at the proper time then the seafarer may be entitled ‘compensation’. For example, to receive wages for an additional 56 days. After that period wages will have to be paid plus interest.
A seafarer repatriated from a ship which changes register, is entitled to wages up to the date of arrival home (not to the date of discharge from the ship).
Seafarers are entitled to receive wages due in cash (though many agree to have them paid directly into a bank account electronically).
No wages are due to a seafarer who wilfully absents themselves from their duties, refuses or neglects to work, or is incapable of work through illness or injury caused by their own fault.
There are authorised deductions which may be made from a seafarer’s wages including:-
- canteen bills, postage, telephone calls
- contribution to funds such as pensions or charities
- expenses for loss suffered by employer due to seafarer’s absence without leave (up to a maximum sum) unless the master is satisfied that this was due to circumstances beyond the seafarer’s control
- expenses or loss to employer due to breach of crew agreement (with exceptions and limit as above)
- contribution to the cost of repatriation where a seafarer is dismissed for a breach of the code of conduct.
In the case of a deduction the master should, where possible, give 24 hours notice and give the seafarer an opportunity to make representations about the deduction.
Seafarers on some crew agreements are allowed to allot part of their wages to any person by means of an allotment note. This is a means for the seafarer’s family to collect ‘house keeping’ whilst the seafarer was away from home.
The form of allotment note, amount payable, timing of payments, procedure for cancellation of allotments are all specified in regulations.
A person to whom part of a seafarer’s wages have been allotted has the same remedies as the seafarer for the recovery of the seafarer’s wages.