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Employment agreements guarantee proper employment conditions

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Congratulations!  You’re hired.  All of those classes you have taken, hours of hitting the docks, networking with friends and fellow crew have finally paid off. It’s the position you wanted and the wages are great. But do I need to do anything more?

As regular readers know, the course of my daily work involves the representation of several yachting registries. The most common complaint that our offices regularly receive from crew is unpaid wages. Our immediate question to each of them is, “Do you have a copy of your contract?”

Before any work, get a contract. It is the best guarantee of proper employment conditions. As a crewmember, you need to be aware of your basic rights. While the term is seldom heard, yacht crews are considered seafarers. As such, there are multiple international labor standards that provide for the protection of seafarers, including the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).  MLC applies to all vessels of any size that are normally engaged in trade.  These are commonly referred to as Commercial Yachts.  Crew on commercial yachts must be issued a Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA).    

However, most yachts are not engaged in trade. They are considered private yachts. What contract requirements do these yachts have? The regulations will fluctuate based upon the flag of registry. During the month of March, the United Kingdom’s Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) released a new Marine Guidance Note. MGN 474 (M) outlines the recommendations for a Crew Agreement in lieu of a Seafarer Employment Agreement.

While a private yacht may voluntarily implement a SEA, the crew agreement is the acceptable method. The MCA states in the MGN that they will no longer produce the documentation for these agreements. Development of future agreements will be at the discretion of owners / employers.

To provide sufficient guidance for these agreements, the MCA attached two annexes to the document. Their contents outline minimum details to be included in the agreement, plus certain contractual clauses that must be included.

Owners or employers who wish to use a crew agreement other than in the standard form will be required to submit their agreements to the MCA for approval. These types of agreements are known as non-standard agreements. To be approved by the MCA, these agreements must comply with ILO Convention 22 (Seamen’s Articles of Agreement). The agreement cannot conflict with the general law of the United Kingdom or place the UK in breach of its international obligations. Any agreements that do not comply with these requirements will not receive the MCA’s approval. In considering requests for approval of non-standard agreements, the MCA desires to ensure that the seafarers are as adequately protected under these agreements, as they would be under the standard form of agreement.

While not commonly seen in the merchant fleet, the use of Indefinite Crew Agreements is almost the norm in yachting. The MGN outlines the minimum requirements for these documents.  

While this MGN is primarily geared towards those yachts under the Red Ensign, the topics it addresses are derived from international regulations. As such, the national law of each country will provide similar requirements.  

Capt. Jake DesVergers currently serves as Chief Surveyor for the International Yacht Bureau (IYB), a recognized organization that provides flag-state inspection services to private and commercial yachts on behalf of several flag-state administrations.  A deck officer graduate of the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as Master on merchant ships, acted as Designated Person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society.  Contact him at 954-596-2728 or www.yachtbureau.org.

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