Seafarers in Washington can look to the example set by the seamen aboard a cargo tanker who had not been paid for three months. The tanker sailed from Indonesia and remained docked in Singapore for two months. 20 seamen claimed their combined unpaid wages of $300,000 through two unions, the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union and the International Lutheran Seafarers' Mission. Their success shows how 3rd party assistance, like an attorney or union representative, in this difficult type of negotiation produces results.
46 USC Section 10313 is the federal statute that governs a seaman's entitlement to wages and provisions. The statute states that entitlement to pay begins when work starts or when specified by an agreement, whichever is earlier. This statute also clarifies that wages do not depend on earning freight by the vessel. If the voyage ends earlier than the time listed in the employment agreement, the shipowner is still required to pay for the period of time the seaman did work. Relief is provided to any seaman who is discharged improperly before the beginning of the voyage or before one month's wages are earned. Improper discharge can occur if a seaman is let go without his consent or without any fault on the part of the seaman. An improperly discharged seaman may recover wages actually earned in addition to one month's compensation.
The timing of payment is also outlined in this statute, which allows a seaman who is not on a fishing vessel, whaling vessel, or yacht to assert payment from the shipowner for 1/2 the balance of wages earned and unpaid at each port where the vessel loads or delivers cargo. At the end of the voyage, the balance is to be paid within 24 hours after the cargo has been discharged or 4 days after the seaman has been discharged, whichever is earlier. Penalties are applied when shipowners delay payment without sufficient cause. Two days wages are to be paid for each day the payment is delayed.
All agreements are guided by 46 USC 10302 which requires the employment agreement to contain the nature and estimated duration of the intended voyage, the time the seaman is to be onboard to begin work, amount of wages, regulations, scale of the provisions that will be provided, and any stipulation in reference to the advancement and allotments of wages. Different types of merchants or voyages may have their own unique method of payments, like fishing vessels, which may pay a percentage of the catch. This should be incorporated into the agreement. Some employment agreements may also be subject to collective bargaining agreements made between the shipowner and a union. Collective bargaining agreements may have their own deadlines for filing or providing notice of a claim and require all disputes to be settled in arbitration.