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WORKING LIVES 28 | telegraph | | March 2012

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Seafarers in the superyacht sector rate their social life very highly Picture: Andrew Linington I

The ratifi cation process of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) has been rather stately, to say the least — but with the Netherlands becoming the 21st signatory in Decem- ber, it is clear that the ‘seafarers’ bill of rights’ is still on track for worldwide implementation within the next few years. There has been some concern about the MLC in the large yacht sector, as owners and operators start to assess whether their crew accommodation will meet the minimum standards set by the convention. The MLC will also affect other signifi cant areas,


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including wages, social security and employment agencies — but it is the issue of onboard living and working conditions that has touched a nerve in the sector. Stories abound of yacht crew suffering discom- fort unimagined by their pampered passengers. But to what extent are these seafarers still expected to squeeze into tiny shared cabins, queue for grotty showers and eat their meals in the laundry room? A survey commissioned by the Professional Yachts- men’s Association (PYA) set out to fi nd the truth of the situation. Conducted by the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) at Cardiff University, the sur- vey was completed online by 1,503 yacht crew with a variety of backgrounds. Having collected the data in 2010, the SIRC researchers then carried out a thor- ough analysis, and the full report was eventually published last month. The fi ndings make interesting reading. While

many respondents are mostly or entirely satis- fi ed with their lot, others will surely breathe a sigh of relief when the MLC prompts their employers to make changes onboard. On the positive side, the researchers report that

the majority of workers felt that their contractual terms and conditions were ‘better than average’. The most common salary band for those paid in Euros was €5,000-€7,000 a month, and on aver- age respondents received 41 days’ paid annual leave including public holidays. The majority were on unlimited rather than fi xed-term contracts. However, only around half were entitled to sick

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pay and 94% did not have private pension contribu- tions made for them by employers. 75% said they had experienced job insecurity, with around the same proportion reporting a lack of training opportuni- ties. 65% had experienced a lack of career progres- sion. Yacht work scored well on the travel and social aspects traditionally valued by seafarers. ‘Access to facilities and shore leave were generally viewed posi- tively,’ say the researchers, ‘with respondents report- ing that at times when there were no guests onboard they could get ashore frequently for long periods and often in locations where there were many social and recreational facilities to be taken advantage of.’ But with 92% of survey participants reporting

that they lived and slept onboard, shortcomings in accommodation and bathroom facilities loomed large in the responses. zmost respondents shared a cabin (64%). 57% of these shared with people of the same gender as themselves, of those who shared a cabin with some- one of a different gender, only 51% had any choice over sharing zof those respondents who shared a cabin, over half

I ge acht crew

A new study looks at the realities of working life in the superyacht sector, SARAH ROBINSON reports...

objected to this at least ‘sometimes’ zmost respondents (85%) slept in cabins with en-

suite bathrooms. Communal bathroom facilities were generally used by both genders, but questions about respondents’ preferences indicated that a single cabin took precedence over an en-suite bathroom z41% said they did not have adequate storage space in their cabins, with 40% feeling that cabin noise was a problem. 77% did not have access to a comfortable chair in their cabin zthe vast majority of respondents (93%) had experi- enced a lack of privacy onboard zlack of space was prevalent too — this had been experienced by 91% of respondents

When the survey participants were given the opportunity to comment on their liv- ing and working conditions, accommoda-

tion (220 comments) was the most frequently men- tioned area. Suggestions for improvement included the following: ‘Better living!! Cabins so you can go and chill out

on your own. Bigger crew’s mess as we cannot eat together.’ (Second engineer)

‘More crew space. Our crew mess/galley is not big enough for the 12 of us onboard to comfortably eat at the same time, and some of the crew cabins are disproportionately small.’ (Chief steward) ‘I think for chief engineers and captains it’s all

right, but the crew accommodation for the rest isn’t great. Not enough space and lack of privacy. The new rules may be a bit over the top, but considering our crew lives onboard 11 months a year, and we have guests onboard for maximum 2 months a year, it’s not a bad idea to give crew more space. We travel a lot, so we’re stuck on the boat quite often.’ (Chief engineer) ‘Privacy and not sharing a cabin at 42 years old!!’ (Chief engineer)


Tellingly, 93% of respondents said they were not members of a trade union, and 63% were not even members of the PYA.

‘If seafarers in the large yacht sector want to see onboard living and working conditions that refl ect their status as maritime professionals, the answer is to make use of their professional bodies to nego- tiate improvements,’ commented Nautilus senior national secretary Garry Elliott. ‘Nautilus is already working with yacht sector

employers to develop a best-practice employment contract template for the industry,’ he pointed out. ‘And we have been involved with the UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s efforts to ensure yacht crew and yacht owners alike will reap the benefi ts of the MLC. ‘Yacht owners and operators do not need to panic

about the convention,’ he added. ‘We have shown that the principle of “substantial equivalence” can be used to give some fl exibility in the application of the standards and to encourage innovative thinking to achieve compliance for smaller yachts.’

gSeafarers working in the large yacht sector can join Nautilus International by calling the membership department on +44 (0)151 639 8454 or online at www. Members of the PYA are entitled to a discount on Nautilus membership — an arrange- ment which also applies to Nautilus members wish- ing to join the PYA.


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