I’m struggling at the moment, and I’m not sure how to deal with what I learned today.
Until now, I have had no dealings with the contracts and pay arrangements of my fellow shipmates. Today, that all changed.
We picked up two new sailors off a supply ship. They’re from Indonesia. As the master of the vessel, I had to review and sign their “fishing agreements”. These are the contracts that these guys enter into with the company. On non-fishing vessels they’re called “shipping articles”.
Ignorance was most certainly bliss, but my new knowledge is painful and I’m struggling with it.
Two sailors joined my ship today. They’re both on twenty-four month contracts. Two years away from home make my three months seem like a cat nap. For their trouble, they’ll get $7200.00, a place to sleep and all the food they can eat. Hell, the company graciously provides them with a hard hat, some rubber shoes, and all the gloves they can use up.
$7200.00. Not per month, mind you. Total.
The sailors on my ship work 15 hours a day, seven days a week. After I signed the contracts, I couldn’t help but do the math. It works out to seventy cents an hour. I made more than that thirty-five years ago at McDonalds, and I got to go home every night.
I make more in a day than they will in a month. At the end of their two years they’ll have made less, total, than I make in one month.
I guess I must not be a Republican, because I’m having a tough time with this new knowledge, rather than enjoying it.
I think the number one reason I’m struggling is that they are working on a ship that is owned by Americans, is flagged by the United States, and chartered to a very rich and successful South Korean corporation. But these are North Korean wages. South Korea doesn’t exactly have a third-world economy these days, just check out the luxury Hyundai car next to you that is being driven by someone flapping their lips into a Samsung cellphone.
Business strategy politics drove the decision to re-flag this once Korean ship to that of the United States of America. That’s great for the owners, I suppose, and it did give this formerly unemployed American a job. For that, I’m quite grateful. But, along with the abominable pay they’re given, there are very few benefits available to the non-American unlicensed seamen who work on a United States flagged fishing vessel. Probably the biggest benefit for them is the fact that I recently put an end to the beatings that used to take place on board this ship. It’s one of those “cultural” differences that I was asked to accept. But I draw the line at physical abuse, and thank goodness so does the United States Code (18 USC 2191 – Sec. 2191. Cruelty to seamen). I suppose too that if anyone bothered to tell these guys about the Jones Act, they could take advantage of that if they needed to. But who will tell them, if can’t understand English?
Oh, I did almost forget the best thing for them about working on an American ship! They get to piss in a cup! They might be dirt poor, but goddammit they’re drug free!
Just say no, boys. Just say no.