The new Regulations implementing ILO 188 into UK law include detailed provisions about fishermen’s work agreements. With the exception of a fishing vessel owner who is single-handedly operating his own vessel, all fishermen must have a fisherman’s work agreement which complies with the Regulations; the size of the vessel doesn’t matter. Failure to have a fisherman’s work agreement and to comply with various provisions of the Regulations is considered an offence by the fishing vessel owner.

A fisherman’s work agreement is defined as a written agreement between a fisherman and another person, in relation to the fisherman’s work on board a fishing vessel. A fisherman is classed as a person, including the skipper, who is employed, engaged or working in any capacity on board any fishing vessel, apart from a person engaged solely as a pilot for the vessel. The skipper is the person who has command of a fishing vessel. It’s worth noting that these definitions go beyond employment; they apply to a person engaged while working in any capacity on board a fishing vessel, and therefore apply equally to self-employed share fishermen working on fishing vessels and employed fishermen.

A fisherman’s work agreement must be comprehensible to the fisherman and include provisions for the 17 matters listed in a Schedule to the Regulations. Space prevents listing and explaining these in full, but broadly they include:

  • all the details about the fisherman, the vessel, the employer, owner or other party (such as a crewing agency);
  • the work to be carried out;
  • the provisions to be supplied, and the wages to be paid;
  • provisions for termination, sickness, injury or death, repatriation, and minimum periods of rest.

The Regulations themselves do not provide a form of the fisherman’s work agreement, but the MCA’s Provisional Guidance, available on the ILO Consultation page on their website contains model formats for fishermen’s work agreements for both employed and self-employed share fishermen.

Fishermen’s work agreements are not intended just to be a box ticking exercise. There is a specific obligation on fishing vessel owners to take reasonable steps – i.e. positive action - to satisfy themselves that the fisherman has had sufficient opportunity to review and take advice on the terms and conditions of the agreement, has received an explanation of his rights and responsibilities under it, and is entering into the agreement freely. If owners fail to do so, they may be guilty of an offence. The fisherman must be provided with a copy of the original agreement, signed by himself and the owner or other party, and a copy of each fisherman’s work agreement must also be held by the owner on board the vessel.

For employed fishermen, wages must be paid monthly or at other regular intervals, as set out in the agreement. For self-employed share fishermen, payments due to them, and the basis on which the payment is calculated must also be outlined. Some form of accounting must be given to the fisherman in respect of his wages. The agreement must also include provision about the fisherman’s entitlement to repatriation. The Regulations include an entire section dealing with repatriation, with which owners should familiarise themselves.

Fishermen’s work agreements are mandatory. If they are not properly completed and signed the owner may be fined, and may also be the subject of some other enforcement action by MCA.

Fishing vessel owners should therefore ensure that the provisions are complied with and that the completed and signed agreements are kept on the vessel along with the vessel’s certification, risk assessments and safety information.