Legal recourse for international drilling/maritime personnel

I’m calling on the great experience represented in this forum to help out a friend. A drilling company recently put out a policy letter stating that from now on, they will be paid according to their nationalities tax laws meaning - if they are Belgium, they will loose 40% of their current salary because that how much taxes Belgium requires of it’s citizens who are actually working there. If you are a Mexican citizen, your salary cut was only 25%, since that would be their tax rate in Mexico. They are all working in Brazil, and due to the treaties made with a lot of these countries, Brazil won’t require an income tax be paid for ex-pats.

ALSO - this company has also implemented a policy where a guy who has a spouse and kids gets paid more then a single guy, regardless of nationality.

What is their recourse? For the Americans, it would be the EEOC, Labor Board, and possibly the BBB? This company still is head quartered in the states. I guess you could go for broke and call class on a major ISM non-conformance? Any and all suggestions to help these folks out would be appreciated.

Avianca has cheap flights to Miami.

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that can’t be legal paying someone with dependents more than someone single, but what do I know.

for all they know the guy/gal’s spouse is making bank and the only reason they work is for beer money.

The whole thing sucks. My friend is Belgium but since it’s an American company he’s reaching out to see what they can do. The policy letter literally said, “So we can save money”. Surely this co’s legal team looked in to this but…can they do this? Any ideas?

lawyer up?

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Sure - but lawyer from where? It’s an international Crew. I told him to get with the EEOC first before anything else - I’m guessing they’ll know better than anyone and even provide legal counsel but…maybe not for any non-US Citizens.

Assuming that the rig is not US flagged, MLC’06 applies, which includes some aspect of payment of wages.
Of course there are no enforcement function, except through the flag state authorities and nowhere else to complain.
If the rig is Vanuatu registered, like many of the American owned rigs are, there are not likely to be much recourse that way either though.

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Is the company collecting the national tax and remitting it to the taxpayers home country?

Or is the company just reducing salaries by the amount of the national tax, but keeping the money?

In these tough economic times companies can and do reduce salaries. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is discriminating on the amount of salary reduction based upon nationality.

The question becomes: Does a foreign national,working on a foreign flag oil rig, in Brazil, for a foreign company, that is owned or controlled by a US company, have standing to sue the US company in US courts for national origin discrimination in employment?

The answer is most likely: No way in hell.

National origin discrimination is alive and well, and perfectly legal in most of the world. So is age discrimination and other formers of discrimination that are illegal in the US.

This company is just reducing salaries by the amount of the national tax but keeping the money. One of their explanations is that, if they were working in their home countries, they’d be paying that much in taxes anyway (since a lot of European countries don’t require complete payment of income taxes where mariners are concerned, and since, for example, Belgium is so oil rich with so many opportunities to work IN BELGIUM on a drilling rig (snark snark), they aren’t even attempting to use logical reason for this policy).

They probably DON’T have the standing to sue a US company in US courts, but I’m hoping the EEOC can point them in the right direction on that score. And then there is Class and Flag State - blow the whistle with them, as is their duty anyway - scary prospect in today’s job market but since the whole dang fleet is dealing with this (even in the GOM, since this company decided to pay more for guys with wives and children) it applies across the board.

They may have more luck with the disparity in salaries due to family/single status, since that directly effects Americans no matter where they are, and would stand up in US courts?

Thanks we’ll check this route as well. Lots of Marshall Island flags out there too, along with some Panamanian hold outs. If they are Marshall Island (haven’t asked yet), that may go better for them since MI has tightened up considerably since Macondo.

This is mystifying, since all they really had to do was say, “We are reducing everyone’s salary by 30% to save money and jobs” and get a better outcome, both financially and moral wise. Not that they seem to care about moral - or maybe the higher ups in that company are so completely out of touch with reality that they thought this actually would improve moral. I say this because its SUCH a bad move that I can’t believe they are that stupid - surely they checked this out with their legal department thoroughly before putting it out there. Which is bad news for those guys offshore dealing with this.

Ach morale.

HAHA! Nobody here wants to be represented by a union while aboard and this is what you get for that! You get Jeaux Bawss TELLING you what he is going to do to you!

besides why are you whining here? don’t you realize how many here have already taken greater than 40% pay cuts?

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Both Marshall Island and Vanuatu Ship Registers are actually operated from USA by Americans, as Is Liberian Register. Not that that help you anything on the legal aspect, but it makes it easier to obtain contact and no language problems.

Since both MIR and LIR are among the biggest international registers and cherish being on the MOU Whit List, they may be more willing to look into this case than Vanuatu, which is mostly used by American OSV and Drilling companies and not on the White List.

Class has nothing to do with wage disputes. They do check and issue ISM Certificates on behalf of flag states, but has no other involvement, or interest in enforcement. ONLY the flag state has that right.

ILO is the organization behind MLC’06 but, like IMO, they have no enforcement function.

ITF sets minimum wages for seafarers, but I assume your Belgique friend will still be paid above that? They do have enforcement capabilities through member unions around the world, but how strong the unions stand in Brazil, and whether they are interested in getting foreign workers out of their patch is an open question. (Would US Unions do anything for foreigners on rigs or boats in the GoM??)

The last thing. Who actually own the rig and who did the workers sign a contract with? In most cases you will find that the actual Owner is a paper company in the country of register, whatever.
That company is usually 100% owned by a Holding company in Delaware, or in BVI, CI, or some other convenient place.

Many times the crews are hired through a Crewing Agent, who hold their contracts and is ultimately responsible for their payment, repatriation etc.

I obviously don’t know if any of the above applies in your case, but is may be worth checking before getting into a legal battle. Maybe a better solution is for all crew members get together and threaten to resign, unless any drop in wages is an agree upon flat rate.

A little anecdote from way back in time, when the Toolpusher was next to God on US rigs.
On a rig working off Brunei with an Iban crew, a new Toolpusher came fresh from the GoM.
He got all worked up when one of the Mess boys showed up in the recreation room all dolled up for the movie and wanted to fire him on the spot. When all the rest of the crew downed tool and refused to go back to work until the Toolpusher was removed, the Management quickly decided that it was cheaper and better to replace one person than the whole crew. The replacement Toolpusher got a lecture on Iban culture before joining.

Oh relax. I’m not whining I just asking for some legal recourse for a friend of mine who’s from somewhere else working somewhere else. Don’t know of too many traditional union type orgs for multinational personnel anyway. No one is complaining about salary cuts in this market, only the method that a company went about it. At the end of the day, it would be great if we could help each other out in light of what’s going on.

Thanks for the info - I say notify class to possibly get them with a big nonconformity on their ISM cert is a step - flag state (these guys are MI) may need to be notified as well. (Will be if there’s a big ISM nonconformity anyway). Yes there has been some good results with entire crews walking out on an u reasonable supervisor but, again this is world wide with in this company. For what it’s worth - this really isn’t my situation! Just feeling bad for a friend stuck in Brazil.

Oh and the ines effected by this are direct hires for this co - no crewing agencies involved for those that are affected.

And ask yourself this - how happy would you be if a guy two levels below you was making more money than you simply because…he’s a Mexican citizen? And this is as per policy?

I don’t see how wage disputes is ISM relevant, as long as the crew continue to do their job safely?
To do otherwise would put their own lives at risk.

Non-conformities are something technical or operational, which is reported to the Owner/Operating company, or in worst case to Flag State in my experience.

When inspecting vessels for suitability, or per CMID / OVID standard format, I always check for ISM compliance and how non-conformance reports are handled by the Owner/Operator. I cannot remember having seen a single NCR being instigated by Class.

Yes organizing a “walkout” for en entire fleet working worldwide would be next to impossible without the assistance of a strong Union. But even if one rig down tools over this issue, it MAY get the necessary attention of management. The Charterers of other rigs in the company would not like to have that possibility hanging over their head either.