Check list for Seafarers Employment Agreement

Seafarers Employment Agreement: Rights and Essential Clauses

In a sector as complicated as the marine industry, keeping track of Seafarers Employment Agreement and rights might seem difficult. You need to be aware of the essential clauses and rights while signing a contract, so as to make sure that you don’t face any problems during the duration of your contract. 

In this blog, we have listed down all the important things that you should know as an aspiring seafarer.

What is a Seafarers Employment Agreement/Contract?

A majority of the flag states needed “crew agreements” prior to the introduction of the MLC (Maritime Labor Convention), which defined the basic conditions of work. The Flag State had to certify the crew agreements before the vessel could execute them, although a paper was adequate for all the crew who had signed when signing in and signing off the ship.

After the arrival of the MLC, this changed. For almost all aspects of the working circumstances of seamen, MLC stipulates minimum requirements – in fact, a ‘Law of Rights.’ Consequently, every seaman operating on a commercial boat must now obtain a Flag State Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA). 

The MLC, in particular, requires that each flag State should have, in terms of crew employment, a properly recorded and legally enforceable contract for each crew member rather than a generic crew agreement. 

According to the MLC regulations,

  • Every sailor has the right to live and work in a secure and safe environment that meets safety standards
  • Every sailor has the right to appropriate working conditions
  • Each seafarer has the right to health care, medical treatment, welfare payments, and other types of social support
  • Every seafarer has the right to a decent working and residential environment onboard a ship
  • The terms and conditions of a seafarer’s employment must be defined or referred to in a clear, written, legally binding agreement that fulfills the Code’s standards

What is the relevance of the Seafarers Employment Agreement/Contract?

Since the Maritime Labor Convention was introduced, statutory minimum standards for seafarer employment agreements and salary payment have been implemented globally. A contract of employment must be signed by both the sailors and the owner of the employer/ship. 

The Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA) is a contract between a single crewman and the vessel’s owner, agent, or firm. Because many boats are owned by a business and managed by a management firm, the owner has limited involvement in the vessel’s administration.

The contract must be written in the seafarer’s native language. If it is not English, a translated English copy must be kept onboard the ship. The SEA must be signed by both the crewmember and the vessel’s employer, and a copy must be retained by the crewmember as well as a copy onboard the vessel. 

What are the essential clauses in a Seafarers Employment Agreement/Contract?

All seagoing ships must have a former employer/shipowner employment agreement. The Seafarers employment agreement should include the following:

  • The complete name of the mariner, date of birth, age, and place of birth
  • Name and address of the shipowner
  • The designation/rank of the seafarer
  • The number of the seafarer’s earnings or, if appropriate, the method used to compute them
  • The number of days of paid annual leave
  • The termination of the agreement and its terms
  • The date of expiry of the agreement
  • The provision of health and social security benefits given to seafarers
  • The right of a seafarer to be repatriated
  • If relevant, a reference to the collective bargaining agreement
  • The date on which the Seafarers employment agreement is signed
  • The location and date on which the service began

Before signing the agreement, the seafarer should be given a chance to review the employment contract. The company should make sure that copies of the agreement are kept onboard for inspection reasons.

5 basic rights you have under a Seafarers Employment Agreement/Contract

1. Employer’s details

As a seafarer, you are entitled to know certain details of your employer. This should, at minimum, include the name, address, and contact number of the employer. It is crucial to have a method of contacting your employer when you are onboard, if you ever need to. Although a SEA is obligated to reveal the shipowner’s name and address, keep in mind that this is not always your employer.

2. Salary details and contract length

In your Seafarers Employment Agreement, the details of your salary and how it should be calculated should be mentioned. If it is a temporary contract, the date of the expiry of the agreement should also be stated in the SEA. if the contract is a permanent one, it should mention the conditions under which the contract can be terminated, including any minimum notice period. 

3. Paid leaves

Under MLC guidelines, the minimum amount of paid holidays that can be acquired is 2.5 days for every calendar month spent on board. Some flag states can increase these days, but they cannot be reduced. In the Seafarers Employment Agreement, it is not specified how and when these leaves should be taken. Thus, you can check with your employer about specific arrangements such as how much holiday can be taken at once, whether it includes bank holidays, etc.

4. Medical insurance

You should have some form of medical insurance, including benefits if you become ill or injured. This is another area where it is critical to ask questions to ensure that you understand what is and isn’t covered, as it varies across employers and areas.

5. Right to repatriation

When your employment contract ends, or in case you are terminated, the shipowner is bound to cover all the costs of your repatriation. They can not ask you to pay an upfront fee at the time of your joining in order to cover your repatriation costs. 

The employer has to provide you with food and accommodation until you have arrived at your previously agreed upon repatriation destination. Up to 30kg of personal luggage for your travels should also be taken care of. The time that you spend waiting for your repatriation or during traveling cannot be deducted from your paid leave. 

You are also compensated for any expenditures spent as a result of medical care required prior to being declared fit to travel to a repatriation destination. The shipowner bears the cost of this.

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Advice on your contract to work at sea

The best way to ensure decent working conditions at sea is to sign a contract (Seafarers Employment Agreement) drafted in line with an ITF-approved collective agreement. Here’s a checklist you need to follow:

  • Do not begin working on a ship without a written contract under any circumstances. MLC requires that you study the contract before signing and seek advice if necessary.
  • Never sign a blank contract. Look out for any terms and conditions that you’re not familiar with.
  • Check to see if the contract you’re about to sign relates to a Collective Bargaining Agreement. If this is the case, ensure that you thoroughly understand the conditions of the CBA and preserve a copy of it with your contract.
  • See that the duration of the contract is clearly mentioned.
  • Do not sign a contract that permits the shipowner to change the contractual duration at his or her exclusive discretion. Any change in the duration of the employment contract should be made according to mutual consent. 
  • Always verify that the basic wages payable are explicitly stated in the contract and that the fundamental working hours are properly mentioned (for example 40, 44, or 48 per week). According to the ILO, the maximum working hours per week are 48 and 208 per month.
  • The contract should also clearly mention how your overtime hours will be paid. There could be a flat hourly rate payable for all hours worked in excess of the basic. The ILO states that all overtime hours should be paid at a minimum of 1.25 x the normal hourly rate.
  • Never sign an agreement that permits the shipowner to withhold or keep any amount of your earnings throughout the contract time. At the end of each calendar month, you should be entitled to full payment of wages earned.

Additional points to note:

Be aware that the Seafarers Employment Agreement will not always mention additional benefits. Thus, try to procure information, preferably in written form, about what compensation will be payable in case of:

  • Sickness or injury during the contract period
  • Death (amount payable to the next of kin)
  • Loss of the vessel
  • Personal loss resulting from the loss of the vessel
  • Premature termination of the contract

Do not sign a contract that restricts your ability to join, contact, consult with, or be represented by a trade union of your preference. Make sure that you have a written copy of the agreement. Verify the contract termination clauses, including how much notice the shipowner must provide you to end your contract.

To sum up,

Always remember that whatever the terms and conditions, any contract/agreement that you enter into voluntarily would, in most jurisdictions, be considered legally binding. 

P.S. To make a career in Merchant Navy, to join a course, or to get sponsorship, contact us at Rife Consultancy and get a free career counseling session!

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