The Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) has advised all the ship owners, agents, and Recruitment and Placement Services (RPS) companies to make available a copy of the Seafarers Employment Agreement (SEA) to seafarers prior to their signing of departure to work on board a ship. This comes following complaints by many seafarers that they were not given enough time to go through and examine the SEA. Most of the time, when the owners and agents are taking their signatures in the SEA at the last moment of their departure, they complain. India provides nearly 10 per cent of the 20 lakh global seafarers.

The advisory comes in the wake of complaints received by the DG Shipping, not only from seafarers but also the next of kin of deceased seafarers, stating/intimating that they are not aware of the clauses incorporated in the SEA/ Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with regard to death and disability compensation, wage scale, hours of work and rest, overtime, and other allowances.

“All the RPS and seafarers are also hereby advised that, while having a contract with the employer for working on foreign flag vessels, the applicable CBA and its components, such as compensation for death and disability; wage scale; repatriation cost; and working hours,” the DGS said in its advisory.

The MS (Maritime Labour) Rules 2016 ensures that seafarers recruited or placed by it are informed of their rights and duties under their employment agreements, prior to or in the process of their engagement. All the ship-owners, agents, and RPSs are hereby advised that while entering into an agreement with seafarers for working on board ships, a three-day gap may be provided to enable them to examine their employment agreement, the advisory said.

The SEA is an enforceable document with legal obligations for employers. The proposal needs to be thought through carefully. It is important, however, that the seafarer exercises his duty of care and reads the SEA prior to signing and should refuse if sufficient time is not afforded. The seafarer will be well within his rights to refuse signing, said Rajesh Tandon, CEO, Foreign Owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association.

In any case, all standard operators are doing the needful in this regard, as it is a mandatory requirement under the Maritime Law Convention, he added.

According to Sanjay Prashar, CEO, VR Maritime Services Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, the new notice shall make it compulsory for all companies to sign SEA with seafarers three days in advance of departure so that seafarers know terms of employment.

“In principle, we agree to the new rule book whereby seafarers get sufficient time to examine SEA. Some RPS agencies have been following unethical practices by pushing seafarers to travel without SEA or handing over SEA at the airport. It is a good idea to have this grievance addressed for seafarers. I have received calls for help from seafarers, especially those who are injured or have not received their salaries. Some cases were pertaining to death and disability, wherein self could not even help,” said Prashar, a former National Shipping Board member.

“Two days is good enough, as e-mail is also available to arrange the study of SEA by seafarers. However, if seafarers circulate the SEA on social media and make fun of employers, then we may have a problem that the jobs of many more seafarers, especially with foreign employers, will be impacted. There should be an article in the circular to address the same,” he said.