Due to the global nature of shipping, seafarers are often recruited from developing countries to work onboard vessels flagged to another country that then sail to many countries worldwide. Often they will work for periods in excess of 9 months and need to be fit enough to perform their duties. Seafarers are also required to undergo medical examinations to reduce risks to other crewmembers and for the safe operation of the ship, as well as to safeguard their personal health and safety. Further information on the medical selection of seafarers is available in Ch 4.8. In addition, they must have successfully completed essential safety courses and to hold certificates of competence appropriate for the position they will hold.
The ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 Regulation 1.4 and Standard A1.4 aim to ensure that seafarers can access an efficient and well-regulated seafarer recruitment and placement system. It contains requirements for public and private services whose primary purpose is the recruitment and placement of seafarers or which recruit and place a significant number of seafarers. Each country that ratifies the MLC must advise its nationals on possible implications of signing on a ship that flies the flag of a State that has not ratified the MLC, until it is satisfied that standards equivalent to those within the MLC are applied. Such measures shall not contradict the principle of free movement of workers stipulated by treaties to which the two States concerned may be parties.
Where do crew come from?
The 2021 BIMCO and International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) workforce report estimates that the global supply of seafarers is 1,892,720 seafarers, with 857,540 officers and
1,035,180 ratings. This is an increase of 10.8% officers and 18.5% ratings since 2015. Shipping companies state that the largest seafarer supply companies, commonly known as the ‘crewing countries’ are:
FOR ALL SEAFARERS
Many ship owners and ship operators do not recruit seafarers directly but use third party agencies.
A manning agent is a recruitment agency that fulfils the following functions:
- advertises a vacancy and gathers applications
- Checks their credentials, such as certificates of competence
- proposes seafarers/candidates to principals/clients,
- arranges medical and visa requirements for outgoing seafarers and
- arranges most local procedures / requirements for crew joining.
Manning agents may act in one of three ways, as a:
- Introductory agency – which will send papers for a company to review
- Hiring hall - an organization usually under a labour union’s auspices, which provides new recruits for employers with a collective bargaining agreement with the union. Use of a hiring hall may be voluntary, or compulsory under the terms of a contract with the union, or, in a few cases, jurisdiction labour laws. Compulsory hiring hall use may turn employers into a closed shop requiring seafarers to join a union before hire. The hiring hall requires a union to ensure members are suitably qualified and responsible before employer deployment. A union will often enforce a basic code of conduct among members. They are most prevalent in skilled trades and where employers require qualified recruits, quickly. The union and employer relationship can be relatively harmonious if a hiring hall is reputable. The union will handle qualifications, eligibility requirements and maintain individual employment records.
- Employment business that chooses seafarers for shipping companies similarly to a recrutiment agency that provides workers for a defined period for shore-based roles. They may supply applications and/or curriculum vitae to employers, or they may conduct interviews on the employer’s behalf, in return for a fee paid by the employer.
In addition, companies may use a crew manager to employ seafarers on behalf of a ship owner or operator. Crew managers
- sign Crew Management Agreements with ship owners
- interview seafarers and ensures all licences and certificates are authenticated
- ensure that medicals and all other local requirements are satisfied.
- select appropriate and competent seafarers according to their service and experience and allocate them to relevant ships under management.
- may act as the maritime employer having all the judicial responsibilities for the crew.
- ensures that the laws of the flag State of the ships are satisfied as regards to ranks, qualifications and certificates of crew, employment regulations and crew tax and social insurance.
- implement under its own name insurances for crew accident, crew protection and indemnity exposure.
- administer crew and all their related issues including but not limited to:
- travel arrangements to and from the ships
- payroll matters
- medical needs
- replacement, including leave applications
- conclusion of union agreements etc.
- provide training for cadets, leading to the attainment of STCW Certificates of Competency.
- identify upgrading and training needs of seafarers. Initiates and implements training schemes on board and ashore aiming at maintaining the high quality and competence of the seafarers.
- provide crew management services
Types of contract
Seafarers from the main crewing countries are often employed on a single trip contract. This means that they are guaranteed one contract, for up to 11 months as regulated by MLC. However, they have no guarantee of further work and must wait for the next available and appropriate position.
Others, mainly officers and often in countries with stronger employment laws, are employed on a permanent, long term contract and therefore have the security of knowing that they will have a further trip to sea after a period of leave. This type of employment is beneficial in many ways, including but not limited to:
- Knowledge of regular income for the seafarer
- Reassurance for the seafarer and family of ongoing employment
- Additional guarantee of medical expenses cover and assistance with rehabilitation to get back to work
- Regular scheduled contracts that are planned in advance
C.1.3 Seafarers Wages
Seafarers’ wages can vary considerably across vessels depending on the nature of the work they perform and the country from which the seafarers are hired. There is no legal minimum wage for a seafarer but the MLC 2006 does include the concept of the recommended ILO minimum wage. This is revised at agreed intervals, specifically for an Able Bodied seafarer (AB), and is used by many shipping operators and trade unions.
Payment of wages
The MLC also has clear information relating to the payment of wages and what must be laid out in contracts of employment and done by owners to ensure timely payment etc. Where there are concerns that seafarers wages are not being paid the first point of reference should be to check the Ship’s Maritime Labour Certificate and accompanying Document of Maritime Labour Compliance. If there are still concerns a seafarer should contact the port State authority and ask them to investigate as appropriate with the flag State.
Wages may also be paid to seafarers in whole or in part with some of the money transmitted to their families as agreed by them and their employers.
Other benefits may be included in a seafarer’s contract, depending on a number of factors that include the company, the type of contract and the position of the seafarer.
Types of benefits include but are not limited to:
- Bonus schemes
- Share schemes
- Health and medical expenses
- Additional social security benefits
- Support for families whilst the seafarer is away at sea
- Enhanced holiday leave