The Professional Yachting Association (PYA) has reported a considerable rise in the number of its members who have contacted it in the past year because of not having been paid what they believe they are owed. In a preview to issue 67 of The Crew Report, we investigate whether this is a recurring problem in the industry, why it is happening and how crew can protect themselves.

“Over the last few years, unpaid crew wages have been a problem for both crew and employers alike,” says Nick Saul, chief executive officer of BachmannHR Group Ltd. “Some yacht owners continue their belief that by chartering their yacht they will be able to cover the operational costs of their boat, yet still allowing them to enjoy the benefits of it. But with tougher chartering markets, ownership becomes harder.”

Captain Richard Le Quesne, a council member of the Professional Yachting Association, agrees: “We are not surprised by the increase in cases of crew not being paid what they think they are owed,” he reveals. “We suspect that more than a few owners have been poorly informed about the running costs for a yacht and, finding themselves financially stretched, see reducing crew costs as a quick way to cut their outgoings.

“In our experience, disputes about unpaid wages fall into one of two groups: situations in which the whole crew has not been paid and situations in which a single crewmember has not been paid what he thinks he is due. Cases in the first group often arise from a deliberate decision by the owner not to pay the crew. In my experience the reason is usually a shortage of money, which means the problem can rarely be resolved by negotiation. Cases in the second group often arise out of conflicting interpretations of the terms of employment and are thus more susceptible to being resolved by informal means. Most cases of this second type arise because the employer – generally the captain – and the crewmember failed to record, or even discuss, the peripheral terms of employment such as days off, holiday entitlements, notice periods and repatriation arrangements, and in the absence of such evidence a dispute can only be resolved by negotiation.”

"We continue to be amazed by the number of crew who accept employment and start working on a yacht with nothing in writing to define the agreed terms of employment."

So how should a crewmember act if he finds himself in such a predicament? “If a crewmember is being discharged and feels that he is not getting what he is due he should go at once to the port captain and ask to make an official complaint,” Captain Le Quesne advises. “Port captains have quite a lot of power in such matters and can, if they wish, bring pressure to bear on the captain. On the other hand, if the employment is continuing but the crewmember feels that he is not getting what he is due, he should try to resolve the matter amicably.” In discussing the true cause of the problem, Captain Le Quesne reveals that around half of the disputes he handles arise because the terms of employment were not properly agreed and recorded. For this reason, it is important to emphasise the need for a written agreement between crewmember and employer.

By ensuring that a written agreement or a contract is in place before joining a yacht, crew can minimise the risk of non-payment arising in the first place. “We continue to be amazed by the number of crew who accept employment and start working on a yacht with nothing in writing to define the agreed terms of employment,” adds Captain Le Quesne. “It is not surprising that disagreements arise later on, when the captain remembers one version of the verbal agreement while the crewmember remembers a different version. This sort of disagreement is especially common with regard to paid holidays and repatriation.”

Find the full feature with further advice in issue 67 of The Crew Reportclick here to download.