Alaska Fishing Job Contracts
Before you’re hired to work as a seafood processing worker, you may be asked to sign a contract. This contract is for your and the employer’s safety. Without it, there would be limited rules governing your and your employer’s actions with regard to one another. Although most seafood processing companies operate legally, there are a few firms that violate safety and labor laws. For this reason, be sure to read any employment contract very carefully.
Be sure you understand the employer’s rules regarding hours of work, pay and overtime policies, room and board, transportation to and from the job site, and health and safety policies.
If you don’t understand something, ask questions. Good companies don’t mind questions, because turnover is costly and they need employees who will work the whole season. Ask for written copies of their pay, hours, housing, transportation, and safety policies. After reading the employment agreement and their policy documents, have someone else read them for you, too. If possible, also try to talk to a past or current employee about working for the company.
Many offshore processing vessels pay workers a crew share instead of an hourly wage. Certain floating processors, for example, pay a .2 percent crew share to each worker. Though getting paid a crew share does have the potential for high earnings, there also is some risk involved. Before accepting such terms, be sure that you understand what this means: if the processor doesn’t make a profit, you don’t get paid. If you get paid by the hour, on the other hand, you get paid even if your employer doesn’t break even. Before accepting a crew share arrangement, be sure that you have enough money to get home if your employer doesn’t make any money.
After taking these precautions, if you still aren’t comfortable with the job offer, either politely decline it, or ask for some time to think it over. Then, call and inquire about the employer’s record. The agencies you should talk to are:
If you are hired by a company that pays your way to the work site, the company is required by law to pay your return fare if you complete the season with them. The employer doesn’t have to pay your way back if you are fired for a reasonable cause, such as fighting, alcohol or drug problems, lying on your application, or recurring inexcused absences. If you quit, the employer only has to pay your fare home if you can prove they misrepresented your wages or hours, or if you quit due to unsafe working conditions.
Documenting Hours and Disputes
To protect yourself in the event of a dispute with your employer, always keep track of your hours. Also make a note of any incidents or disagreements between you and your employer. Your chances of resolving a disagreement in your favor are almost zero unless you have good documentation of the facts.
Beyond the Three Mile Limit
If you’re going to be working on a floating processor, bear this in mind: many vessels operate outside the three-mile limit, in federal rather than state waters. No Alaska state agency can help you if you are cheated by an unscrupulous company operating in federal waters. And if you’re working on a factory trawler operating beyond the 200-mile federal limit, you’re in international waters. Out there, some federal work rules don’t apply. Some workers have spent the entire summer working on a processor and have gone home with little to show for their efforts.
Getting Out of Bad Agreements
If you believe you are being cheated, take these steps before quitting:
- Keep track of your hours.
- Write down your grievances.
- Make a note of any unsafe work conditions.
- Contact the Alaska Department of Labor and report the problem.