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Write to Be Heard: French law on social security offers another option

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By Vincent Huens de Brouwer

Regarding the recent implementation by the French government of the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC 2016 – Regulation 4.5 – Social security), your readers should know that France will soon be followed by other States that ratified the MLC with the objective to promote basic social protection for seafarers and their families that reside on their soil.

At present, there are more than 80 States that have ratified the MCL, including well-known yacht-orientated States such as Italy, Spain, the UK (including the Cayman Islands), and the Marshall Islands.

In brief, the social security regulations France implemented on July 1 concern all seafarers on a foreign-flagged vessel — private or commercial — who are based in France for three consecutive months or longer. (Decree on French social security No. 2017-307 of March 9, 2017​; Ref: Article L.5551-1 of the French Transport Code​ ​paragraph​ 4). There are discussions to possibly extend the period applicable to crew members who live onboard yachts. Further update will be provided.

Crew who already pay into a social security scheme in a country that has a bilateral agreement with France (such as the UK or U.S.), it is not necessary to make any changes. Crew who do not pay into such a system are required to join the French mariners’ social security agency (ENIM) to make their social security contributions in France.

Since Jan. 1, with an amendment to Article L. 111-1 of the French Social Security Decree, the French government will allow seafarers to join a private social security scheme, as long as the payments and cover provided equal or exceed those afforded by ENIM. 

There are currently only a few private insurance plans that comply with the MLC as implemented by the French law. To be equivalent and compliant with the French law, the plan must include: 

  1. Medical care, professional and private
  2. Employment injury benefits to cover lost income
  3. Disability benefits, temporary or permanent, total or partial disability, whatever the cause
  4. Sickness benefits, temporary or permanent, total or partial disability, whatever the cause
  5. Life insurance, accident, illness or natural death, whatever the cause
  6. Family benefits. The child benefit allocated per child per insured woman, based on the number of dependent children
  7. Maternity cover. Medical expenses and a minimum 16 weeks maternity leave (six before and 10 after childbirth)
  8. Old age benefit.

The main difference between a French compliant plan and a non-compliant plan is the addition of three of these items that now need to be included: maternity leave, birth allowance and old age benefits. The French law does not require the plan to propose unemployment benefits. The plan also covers family members of the insured if they do not have access to social protection.

SGRM in association with WYCC now offers yacht crew a compliant private social security plan called the “French Pack” as an option to a yacht’s regular insurance policies.

It is too early to report how the French government will carry out Port State Control but there will soon be vessel inspections on this requirement, and employers must be ready to justify a private social security at least equivalent to the Articles L. 111-1 of social security code. The P&I certificate is no longer sufficient with regard to the MLC requirements as endorsed by the French government.

The risk of vessel detention and the sanctions specified by the French law against the defaulting shipowner/employer are real. As per MLC, the shipowner is the owner of the ship or another organization or person — such as the manager, agent bareboat charterer or recruitment company — who has assumed responsibility for the operation of the ship from the owner.

If the shipowner has no social security in place for the crew with minimum requirements as defined above, the penalties can be up to 225,000 euros, plus payment of social contributions (past three years) and payment of an indemnity for the seafarer (six months of salary).

In addition, shipowners must also modify their seafarer employment agreement (including social security) and the maritime labor certificate DMLC2. 

Before, social security was under the liability of the crew (as mentioned in the Seafarers Employment Agreement). Since the application of the MLC and French law, the shipowner now needs to prove that social security is in place. The shipowner needs also to prove that a minimum 50 percent of contributions are paid by the shipowner.

Our advice for crew:

  1. Check that crew benefits are compliant with the law.
  2. P&I and Standard Crew Welfare do not by themselves provide all social security benefits.
  3. Ask the insurance provider about adapted benefits. If it is not possible, cancel the current crew policy.
  4. Ask the “private insurance statement of commitment as part of the Article 5551-1 of the French Transport Code” to be remitted to ENIM as evidence of compliance with the French law.

Vincent Huens de Brouwer is the France-based director of SGRM – International Insurance Brokers. For more information, email wycc@sgrm-insurance.com or call +1 954-727-5354. MGA WYCC Insurance and the law firm of Ince & Co. provided the writer with topical information for this essay. Comments on this essay are welcome below.

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