MARK DICKINSON writes about the stressed, bullied and tired workers who staff the growing fleet of superyachts
FANCY a job that takes you to sun-soaked locations like the south of France and the Caribbean, with a tax-free salary and no nine-to-five routine?
That’s a career choice being made by more and more young British workers who are taking up posts in the booming superyacht sector.
As the rich get richer, the number of superyachts has grown spectacularly (by some 77 per cent in less than a decade) and this has created an almost insatiable demand for people to crew them.
More than 300 new superyachts were delivered in the past two years, and there are more than 450 on order.
The global superyacht fleet now totals almost 4,500 vessels and it’s predicted that the boom will continue — with some 200,000 so-called ultrahigh net worth households looking to splash their cash around.
Not only are there more superyachts, but there are now growing numbers of megayachts — some of the biggest being the size of small cruiseships and fitted with complex and high-tech equipment, which is fuelling a growing demand for highly skilled and well-trained seafarers.
Demand for crew has risen by 37 per cent in the past three years, and it is estimated that there are now well over 33,000 crew members employed on superyachts, with as many as 150,000 shore-based support jobs and up to 100,000 contractor and day worker jobs.
But behind the glossy facade, there is another story to be told — and it is why Nautilus has tabled a motion at Congress this year to seek the TUC’s support for our work to ensure that this expanding sector is properly regulated and that workers in the industry are not denied the rights that shore-based staff would be entitled to.
Nautilus has been busy building a growing membership base in the sector, and we have been handling a matching increase in casework on their behalf — anything from unpaid wages to confiscated passports, personal injury and bullying and harassment.
Feedback from our members, backed up by independent research, has raised some serious concerns.
A study by the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) at Cardiff University found that 75 per cent of crew were worried about job security, 94 per cent had experienced work-related stress and more than 40 per cent had experienced bullying and harassment on an occasional, frequent or constant basis and almost one-third had come across discrimination on sex or race on an occasional, frequent or constant basis. The study also found that while salaries were pretty good — and often tax-free — barely half the crew were entitled to sick pay and only 6 per cent had pension contributions paid for by their employers.
Working days of 10 to 14 hours were commonplace and almost a third said they struggled to get adequate rest onboard their vessel.
Seafaring is one of the world’s most dangerous jobs and superyachts are no different.
There has been no shortage of horrendous accidents — and some cases where badly injured crew or the relatives of those who have been killed on superyachts have received no compensation.
Some of these cases have highlighted a disturbing lack of accountability, compounded by the use of flags of convenience and complex contractual arrangements. The crew surveyed by SIRC served on superyachts operating under a total of 45 different registers — all of which creates a jurisdictional nightmare when it comes to dealing with accident investigation or determining liability for compensation.
It’s therefore vital that superyacht owners are held accountable for the treatment of their crew and that’s why Nautilus is urging the TUC to secure action to get effective enforcement of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) in the sector.
The convention — described as the “bill of rights” for the world’s seafarers — was agreed by the International Labour Organisation in 2006 and is intended to create a level playing fi eld in what is one of the most globalised and fiercely competitive labour markets.
It sets internationally applicable standards for seafarers’ working and living conditions, backed up by requirements covering employment agreements, wages, hours of work and rest, leave, repatriation and compensation.
It’s vital that the MLC is applied to the superyacht industry and enforced by the countries who register these vessels or host them in their ports.
Given that as many as two-thirds of the world’s superyachts are using the British flag or “Red Ensign Group” registries such as the Isle of Man and the Cayman Islands, it’s even more vital that Britain takes the lead in securing proper standards in the sector.
The issues are all the more important given the continuing parlous state of seafaring employment in Britain. This is why Nautilus has also tabled a motion calling for urgent action to address the problems facing the British Merchant Navy.
Shipping is vital for an island nation like the UK, and we continue to have a strong economic, social and strategic reliance upon the industry.
However, British seafarer numbers are continuing to decline and on current trends their numbers will diminish by a further 30 per cent over the next decade.
The number of UK-owned and registered ships has fallen from 712 in 2009 to 452 last year, and there continues to be extensive evidence of substandard, often flag of convenience, shipping operations in British waters posing unfair and often illegal competition to quality operators.
If we are to have a secure future as a maritime nation and not just rely on clapped-out coffin ships operated by exploited crew from low-cost labour supply counties, it’s more important than ever that the government acts urgently to implement the cross-industry proposals for improvements to the Support for Maritime Training scheme; properly enforces national minimum wage and work permit requirements for all seafarers working on British domestic shipping services; introduces cabotage legislation to protect UK-flagged and UK-crewed vessels in coastal and offshore services from unfair competition from ships with substandard safety and working arrangements, and ensures that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is properly staffed and resourced to enforce critical national and international standards for safety and working conditions on all ships operating in and around Britain.