Internet has made life so easy for all of us. Whether it’s shopping online or looking for a job from the comfort of your home, all the information is available at the press of a button. Today e-commerce sites offer lucrative discounts and an exhaustive detail of the products you desire to purchase. You also have the choice to read reviews about the services of an e-commerce website or the product of your liking which you intend to purchase. In other words, it is a well informed decision before you decide to hit the PAY button. Does the same criterion apply to maritime websites offering job opportunities?
There are hundreds of shipping companies advertising on maritime websites with attractive offers similar to those offered by online e-commerce websites. Other than their own fancy write-ups about themselves, you don’t get much feedback about the shipping company in the form of reviews from other seafarers who have already worked for them. So in spite of the large scale attrition some of these shipping companies with dubious backgrounds, these companies still manage to attract several seafarers to run their ships and businesses.
It is no great secret that the biggest anxiety of any seafarer on board is with regards to his wages. After a month’s hard work he expects his employers to fulfill their obligations of remitting his full monthly wages to his nominated bank account. Some seafarers are lucky to get their money in time, however, several unfortunate ones have to spend endless days and nights in deep anxiety when their wages are held back by their employers.
With the recent downturn in shipping industry, the local unions and ITF data bases are full of complaints from seafarers against their employers for either non-payment of their wages or for not relieving them in time or both. Several other types of complaints being received monthly by ITF offices worldwide are mainly related to:
- Poor working conditions on board.
- Threats from senior officers or employers for carrying out illegal jobs.
- Unsafe or unseaworthy ships.
- Unhealthy or inadequate Food
and many others…..
Today it is hard to define which shipping company is good and which is bad. Each seafarer has his own criteria of judgement and job requirement. Mostly, seafarers rely on word-of-mouth publicity from fellow seafarers or are attracted by the fancy advertisements when it comes to selecting a shipping company. In some cases for their own dire needs, seafarers take the first available job only to regret later. The fact is that the seaman fraternity is the most disconnected lot and there is no website or forum or online blog which can guide them about the working conditions on board, before signing their contract of employment.
Most seafarers today are aware of Flag of Convenience Ships. These Flag of Convenience ships or simply FOC ships are prime targets of the ITF. The worst ones have a bad history of crew problems and trouble with port authorities. Their heavily paid executives and agents lure seamen with sugar coated words and their true identity is revealed only after few days of the seaman landing up either in their office or joining their ship. These ship owners survive on coercion, blackmailing and threats to seamen. They hold back wages of seamen and refuse to relieve them whenever a seaman complains of poor working conditions on board Or disobeys illegal orders Or acts as a whistle blower.
The dearth of good quality ship crew has been in existence for a long time now and the situation will not change for some time due to premature retirement of ratings and officers due to the growing menace of piracy. Sometimes the shortage is so severe that a job is settled between a seaman and shipping company on the phone itself. More affluent shipping companies arrange for video conferences. Commitments are exchanged on phone but the gamble doesn’t always pay off.
There is a saying that “Precaution is better than the Cure” and if seafarers follow these basic rules, they can save a lot of headaches for themselves and their families when joining a new shipping company.
- Get as much information about the company, its promoter and his reputation from as many sources as you can. Don’t just get attracted to the big label.
- Get information on the manning agent/executive responsible for all your benefits. Sometimes a good company but a bad manning agent/executive can ruin your life and career.
- Never agree for a telephonic job agreement and do not commit unless you have secured all necessary information about the company or the person interviewing you.
- Never join without undergoing a proper medical examination. There have been cases when seamen have returned back home after few days due to unknown pre-existing illness and had to pay heavily for their repatriation.
- Read your service terms and conditions carefully prior signing your contract and never agree to sign your contract either at the airport or on board.
- Clear all your doubts prior joining rather than asking questions later from other officers and Master on board. It may be too late to ask then.
- If you are carrying your family, cover them with an overseas medical policy as they are not covered by the company’s insurance.
- Check the company policy on sailing in pirated water. Check if you have the rights to sign off with full repatriation benefits in case you refuse to sail to pirated waters of countries such as Somalia or Nigeria.
- You may be going on board for a long contract. It is always a good idea to find out about the kind of crew welfare existing and provided by the ship owner/manager on board. Does it exist only on paper?
- If you are joining a FOC ship. Check with your local union affiliated to ITF about your minimum assured wages, benefits and rights on that ship and a directory of ITF offices worldwide. You may even access the directory online.
- If you are required to do any in house courses do not accept computerized signatures on certificates provided by the manning office as you could land into trouble with port authorities.
- Ensure that monthly wages agreed on telephone or email is the same as that on the contract.
There will be several other things you may have on your mind like contractual allowances, food, victualing on board. Rather than asking and troubling the master on board your ship, joining a ship with a clear mind with all required information under your belt, will save you from all the headaches which otherwise would arise as a result of lack of information exchange with the employers prior to joining.
Remember seafaring today is a tough and difficult profession. Join a ship armed with information and knowledge. Trust me – it’s not worth gambling with your career and your life.
Do you know any shipping company that take undue advantage of seafarers? How do you find out the credibility of the company you are working for?