Busting the myths of MLC and flag state laws.
The Maritime Labor Convention was written in 2006. It took until 2015 for it to be ratified and made a big impact when it came into effect in 2016. Establishing basic rights for seafarers, the MLC has been widely scrutinized by professionals who feel that its drafters did not consider the superyacht industry.
By Emma Batchelder
Q: How many vacation days am I entitled to in a year?
A: MLC requires that seafarers employed on ships that fly its flag are given paid annual leave under appropriate conditions. In the case of Cayman Islands Flag State, crew members are to be granted 38 days of leave for every 12 months of work. They are broken into two sections; 30 vacation days and eight public holiday days. You shall accrue vacation days at 3.2 days a month. Each Flag State’s allocation of public holiday days differs slightly.
Q: Can weekend days be counted as vacation days?
A: Under the Merchant Shipping Regulations, there is no such thing as a ‘standard working week’. Public holidays, weekend days, and all days of the week can be counted as vacation days.
Q: If I take off the entire month of June for my vacation, how many days will this of leave will this count as?
A: This would count as 30 days of leave.
Q: The boat I work on sits at the dock for extended periods of time, and the captain gives us weekends off. Can either of my weekend days off start being deducted from my annual vacation time?
A: No. Temporary shore leave cannot be counted as part of annual vacation time. There needs to be a distinction between ‘temporary shore leave’ and ‘extended shore leave’. A captain can issue an extended shore leave notice to a crewmember which will count as vacation days.
Q: Under maritime laws, am I owed any days off in a standard work week?
A: MLC laws fall under the laws of the International Labor Organization who state that for every six days, there will be one day off owed in lieu.
Q: If I have agreed to taking a set amount of ‘temporary shore leave’, do I need to sleep off the vessel?
A: There is no requirement under the laws that state that a crew member must sleep off the boat. If the employer is willing to let the crew member sleep onboard that is okay.
Q: A public holiday occurs over my vacation time. Does this not count as a day of leave since it is a holiday?
A: It will still count as a day of vacation since there are already eight days of paid leave (under Cayman Island flag state) that cover public holidays.
Q: How many vacation days would I be owed if I quit my job after only 8 months?
A: Again, this comes back to flag state. In the case of Cayman Islands, annual leave shall be accrued at 3.2 days per month and, where a seafarer does not serve a full year, this shall be calculated on a prorated basis. In this case, you would be owed 26 days (rounded up from 25.6).
When the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) was established as the ‘fourth pillar’ of international maritime law (the other three are SOLAS, STCW and MARPOL). Its intention was to enforce regulations that would bring better standards to seafarers’ lives. These laws apply across the board to all mariners, but do not always take into consideration our unique superyacht industry. The result of this can unfortunately be more confusion for the yachting community.
As we all know every yacht’s schedule is different. Most yacht crew get the odd day off here or there, but yachting is certainly not an industry in which holidays or weekends are anticipated to be non-working days. There is no set definition of a “Standard Working Week” under the Merchant Shipping Law. There are clear laws under the Merchant Shipping Regulations (certification, safe manning, hours of work and watchkeeping) that state a seafarer must be provided with 77 hours rest in any seven-day period. There is no requirement to which days these hours are to be taken on. In addition, MLC enforces a maximum of 14 hours of work in a 24-hour period, or a maximum of 72 hours of work in a seven-day period.
In the case of a day off given by the captain, a distinction between ‘temporary shore leave’ and ‘extended shore leave’ would be highly beneficial. Temporary shore leave granted to a seafarer cannot be counted as part of annual leave pursuant to the regulations however shore leave can, and will be deducted from your annual leave.
Vessels that sit at the dock for extended periods of time and are often granted more ‘temporary shore leave’. If the captain choses to give crew members two days off a week, regardless of which day it is they cannot be counted against the crew’s ‘extended shore leave’ time. This can get a little tricky in some cases where a yacht sits at a dock for lengthy amount of time, and crew are regularly being granted two days off a week. To some owners, their crew accumulating vacation days while only working five days a week may seem like a bit of a double standard, but this is compliant with MLC/Cayman Islands laws.
On another note, not all yachts are required to be compliant with MLC. From a Cayman Islands perspective, MLC does not apply to pleasure yachts. There are numerous MLC regulations under Cayman Islands Merchant Shipping law that all contain specific language clarifying this. A vessel that is privately owned and not engaged in commercial activities, that is to say the yacht is not engaged in trade, is not required to be compliant with the laws.
The captain plays a vital role onboard the yacht, as an advocate for both the owner and the crew. Finding reliable employees can be challenging in a saturated market, and once you acquire the right people you do what you can to hold on to them. Yachting is a fast-paced, sometimes cut-throat industry, often with high turnover. It is not uncommon for crew to get burnt out and ‘jump ship’ after less than a year.
In addition to the controversial subject of vacation days, captains and owners are also running into the issue of crew trying to finagle the repatriation laws. It is not uncommon for crew members to work an entire 12-month period onboard, take their annual vacation, only to return to the vessel after a paid holiday, and resign in the thirteenth month. Crew members then expect another flight back to their home country (or prior determined port of return) to be paid by the boat on their behalf. This is completely legal, but is obviously going to leave a sour taste in the owners and captains mouths, and something the yachting industry needs to somehow rectify.
One way Luxury Yacht Group suggests remedying this situation is by drawing up one-year contracts for crew members. This way crew members can take their annual leave and vacation flights, and if they chose to, come back to the vessel and re-sign another one year contract. This creates a much fairer playing field for both the owner and crew.
Q: If I resign from my job onboard, is the boat required to pay for my flight home?
A: Crew members are protected by MLC laws which state that if the seafarer has not breached their contract, they shall be repatriated by lowest cost airline to the place where you signed your employment agreement, your country of residence, or such other place as mutually agreed with the ship-owner when you sign the employment agreement.
Q: If I did not take all my leave owed to me from one year, can I carry it over to the following year?
A: All paid annual leave must be taken in the year in which it accrues. There is also no provision for payment to be made in lieu of untaken leave except where paid annual leave has accrued but has not been taken at the date of termination of employment.
Q: My crew member terminated their contract in breach of the terms of the agreement. Is the owner still required to cover repatriation costs?
A: If the seafarer breached the contract then the employer may treat this as misconduct and recover up to a maximum of $1,000 for repatriation costs.
Holding a position on a superyacht is an honor and something to be proud of. Yacht crew work long days and nights delivering the highest level of service to their bosses or guests. Dependent upon the yachts’ schedule, they can work for months at a time with no days off at all. These are some of the reasons why the crew are generally paid such unusually high salaries by comparison to any land based job in a similar form. Their work is commendable, and at times incredibly exhausting, but crew will agree that the good far outweighs the bad.
Great captains will take care of the crew to their best ability. They will also gently educate yacht owners as to how important this is, whilst at the same time keeping their boss’ best interests at heart, and protecting their assets - one of which is their crew. A brilliant captain will create a harmonious relationship between all parties involved.
Experienced yacht owners can easily recognize that having a stable crew onboard is a vital asset. It is crucial not only for the maintenance of the vessel, but is also directly linked to their level of happiness and satisfaction whilst onboard. As a rule, most yacht owners realize this, so they are willing to pay these high salaries, and offer generous contracts to their crew.
With various employee contracts - dependent upon the gross tonnage, and whether the vessel is private or charter, pre-MLC and post MLC, we can help you customize your crew contracts to your needs. We also have an official agreement drawn up for days of shore leave taken which can serve as a legal document when noting official days off.
If you have any further questions or need any help regarding matter like this one, please contact us at email@example.com we would be glad to assist you further.