Should green crew work for free?

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Q: Anonymous, Deckhand, 22:

“I’ve just arrived in Palma, and people are talking about working for free as a dayworker when you’re green to get the first bit of experience. Is this common in yachting? It seems a bit strange to offer a 30 million dollar yacht my services for free (when I’m totally broke!) but maybe that’s just me not knowing how the industry works? Everyone’s talking about it this week in the place I’m staying as there’s something on Facebook about it, and some people are pro and some people massively against it. I know a few new crew have already decided to give it a go in order to make themselves seem more keen than everyone else, but I can’t really afford to do that after paying for courses and accommodation, and it kind of annoys me that this is a thing. Why should people have to work for free, especially for billionaires?”

A: The Crew Coach:

Hear hear! Actually, I saw that same post on Palma Yacht Crew and commented on it myself. Here is the response I gave, with a little more detail. I feel really strongly about this issue myself and as a professional yachting Career Coach, my response to the question of whether green crew should daywork for free is always a resounding NO. In my opinion, no crew should work for free, no matter how green they are, and no matter what job they are doing.

There are a number of really good reasons for my standpoint on this:

It’s a slippery slope to low wages—for everyone. If a whole wave of new crew come in who are prepared to work for free at the start of their career in exchange for experience, it could soon become an industry norm that green dayworkers aren’t paid. It’s only a very short step from there to yacht owners (and Captains and management) questioning why they’re paying such ‘high’ salaries to junior crew when there are people obviously prepared to do it for much less. After all, if they’re willing to work for free, it stands to reason they’ll work for peanuts… Then, as junior wages then fall, so too does the next level up – all the way to the top. Crew salaries have remained fairly static and even dropped over the last ten years, and we don’t want to more fuel to that downward spiral or the quality of crew will also drop. In fact I believe this is already happening. This is one of those ‘tragedy of the commons’ situations where if everyone acts in their own self-interest (green crew by getting experience, Captains by getting free, keen workers), then everyone ultimately loses.
It’s a huge risk on your part. If you are not employed through the books (even as a dayworker, as you must be on all MLC yachts), there’s a great danger you won’t be insured if there’s an accident. Sadly, this has happened in the past, and it’s not worth taking the risk EVER. If you are working on a yacht, you should be paid for it—and insured. Believe me, I personally know people whose lives have been desperately ruined as a result of yachting workplace injuries not covered by insurance.
It tarnishes the image of the industry. Superyachts need to attract professional, dedicated people who consider it a profitable career from the start. After all, money is one of the big drivers attracting people into yachting in the first place. While free daywork for a day ‘here and there’ won’t bring down the whole house of cards, there will undoubtedly be people who abuse the system, and stories filtering back from resentful dayworkers saying ‘I worked for 2 weeks for free for this 30 million dollar boat and never got anything out of it’ is not good for anyone.
It annoys other crew. If you check out the original Palma Yacht Crew post, you’ll see there’s some pretty heated arguing going on in there. As in your crew house, some are pro the idea, but the majority are anti, and it’s a really hot issue that makes people angry. If you go up to a Captain while dockwalking and offer your services for free, or talk about your work for free policy in a bar or interview, you may trigger anger from someone who feels you’re undermining crew salaries. It’s far more likely to be frowned on than well received. Of course, some great Captains will have worked for free back in the day and think it shows enthusiasm, but you’re taking a big risk they won’t.
There’s a chance the yacht is a bit dodgy in other ways. Expecting crew to work for free might be a sign the yacht is bending rules or squeezing budgets in other ways, or they are lackadaisical in their approach to other formalities, like safety or compliance. It might be a good idea to steer clear of a yacht like this. Integrity is such an important quality to look for in the people you are working with and for, and people tend to start as they mean to go on, so if they think it’s ok for you to work for free they may care less about your welfare in general.
It makes it harder for green crew to get jobs. This seems paradoxical: after all, they’re doing it for experience to get jobs, but before long, everyone would offer their services for free so it would soon be no advantage at all. The only result would be new crew not getting paid, having less money to spend on accommodation, courses, food—giving them less time to job hunt as their money would run out sooner and they may end up having to go home earlier than they should have, without a job. (Not forgetting all the yachting bars and local businesses rely on green crew having disposable income…)
It hurts experienced dayworkers and crew. Many experienced crew daywork when between jobs, and freelancers tend to do a lot of daywork in between their freelance charter gigs. Paid daywork is a huge part of the yachting industry machine, which keeps a lot of experienced and green crew solvent while waiting for their next opportunities. The concept of ‘free daywork for green crew’ harms experienced crew’s chances of getting work: after all, if you’re a budget conscious Captain with a yacht full of stainless to polish, would you get the green crew to do this basic task for free, or pay an experienced crewmember 100-120 euro a day?
Times have changed. I can totally understand why some veteran Captains see this as a normal, and even admirable strategy. After all, they did free deliveries and wash-downs in marinas over thirty years ago to earn their stripes and get their foot in the door. But yachting has changed enormously — the cost of living in a yachting community is way more expensive now, with very tough competition and very costly compulsory entry level courses. Paid daywork has been the industry norm for 20 years or so now, and it should continue.
What you should do

Ultimately, I believe anyone who asks you to work for free is really taking advantage of you and I would (anonymously if you wish) report that yacht to someone like the PYA or the Flag state the yacht is registered to (look at their aft deck flag to identify this).

I always advise green crew to politely say to prospective employers that they believe in the value of their work, and are positive their efforts will be worth every penny of a regular day working rate, if they can be given the chance to prove themselves. I believe this shows backbone, integrity and confidence, all great qualities good yachts are looking for in their crew.

I’d love the yachting industry to take a stand against this – it’s not as if yacht owners can’t afford to pay their crew. Every Captain and HOD should cast their minds back to when they were dayworking, and how important the wages were to them then. Daywork is not just about gaining experience – it also helps fund their continued job hunt. By not paying people, yachts are sending a message that dayworkers aren’t really valued, and the industry doesn’t value new talent.

In our multi-billion dollar industry, should the people with the least amount of power and money really be expected to work for free?

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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