Before the introduction of the MLC most Flag States required “crew agreements” which set out the key terms of the employment conditions. The Flag State had to approve the crew agreements before they were implemented by the vessel, but one document sufficed for the whole crew, which was signed by individuals when joining and leaving the vessel. With the introduction of the MLC all this changed. The MLC establishes minimum requirements for almost all aspects of working conditions for seafarers – in effect, a “bill of rights”. Additionally, signing-on articles on vessels under Red Ensign flags became obsolete when the MLC came into effect. So now every seafarer working on a commercial yacht must have a Flag State approved Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA).
Specifically in terms of crew employment, the MLC requires each Flag State to have a clearly written and legally enforceable contract for each crewmember, not a general crew agreement. This is known as a Seafarers Employment Agreement or SEA.
The MLC Regulations state:
• Every seafarer has the right to a safe and secure workplace that complies with safety standards
• Every seafarer has a right to fair terms of employment
• Every seafarer has a right to decent working and living conditions on board ship
• Every seafarer has a right to health protection, medical care, welfare measures and other forms of social protection.
• The terms and conditions for employment of a seafarer shall be set out or referred to in a clear
written legally enforceable agreement and shall be consistent with the standards set out in the Code.
The SEA is a contractual agreement between the individual crewmember and the vessel’s owner, representative or owning company. (In most cases the owner has little to do with the yacht’s administration; as many yachts are owned by a company and run by a management firm, we will refer from now just to the “employer” to cover all three entities.)
It must be in a language understood by the crewmember. Where such a language is not English, an English translation must be maintained on board the vessel. The SEA must be signed by the crewmember and the vessel’s employer and a copy kept by the crewmember and a copy held on board the vessel. (The importance of a copy being held on board was emphasised within two weeks of the MLC coming into force when a vessel was detained in Denmark as, on inspection it was found that none of the crew had a SEA.)
Guide to the Seafarer Employment Agreement (719kb PDF)