Increase in Minimum Wage for Seafarers through Recent Amendments to the Seamen Wages Council Wage Regulation Order

On the 1st of January 2021, a number of amendments to the Seamen Wages Council Wage Regulation Order (Subsidiary Legislation 452.51) (“the Order”) came into force through Legal Notice 469 of 2020 whereby the legislature sought to re-evaluate and eventually increase the minimum wage for certain categories of seafarers by an amount of €1.75 per week, only one year after the previous set of amendments came into effect.

The Interplay with other applicable maritime law provisions

Whilst also regulated under the Merchant Shipping Act (“MSA”) and the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) Rules (“MSR”), these standards ought to be differentiated by proper assessment of each of the applicable laws’ scope. In accordance with the Order’s explanatory note, its provisions are to apply solely to “all employees on board ships regularly operating within the territorial waters of Malta, but do not apply to employees working on board fishing vessels or foreign going ships”. On the other hand, the MSA and the MSR cater for seafarers aboard vessels flying the Maltese flag. Article 39 of the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (“EIRA”) establishes that certain provisions contained in the EIRA shall not apply in relation to seamen employed on ships under the provisions of the MSA, and establishes that in the event of any conflict between the provisions of the EIRA and the MSA, the provisions of the MSA shall apply.

Inevitably, despite the Order’s limited scope, the aforementioned regulations may still overlap in situations where Maltese-flagged vessels would be operating in Maltese territorial waters. Nevertheless, in line with the Latin maxim “lex specialis derogat legi generali”, the Order ought to be deemed the applicable law in such circumstances.

Leave Entitlement Amendments

It can be noted that the leave entitlement provisions provided under the Order are rather different to those provided under the MSA and MSR, so much so that the provisions under the Order seem to be more akin to those contained in the Organisation of Working Time Regulations (Subsidiary Legislation 452.87), whereby it is established that where a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday or on a weekly day of rest to which the whole-time employee is entitled, such employee shall be given an additional day of vacation leave in this regard.

Moreover, Article 5 of the Order stipulates that in addition to the minimum weekly rest to which whole-time employees may be entitled to, such employees shall also be entitled to National Holidays and to all public holidays with full pay, as well as vacation leave amounting to 4 working weeks and 4 working days, significantly different from the 2.5 calendar days per month entitlement provided under the MSR.

Concluding remarks

Although the increase by €1.75 per week may appear to be only a slight increase, it nonetheless highlights the legislature’s intention to ensure that such wages are kept in line with any increases in terms of cost of living. Additionally, such amendments also reflect the legislature’s acknowledgement that seafarers working on ferries and other commercial vessels within Maltese territorial waters are considered to constitute a specific category under the broader category of seafarers in general.

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