Employment & Social Security Schemes for Crew on Board Vessels Registered Under the Malta Flag


Persons employed on Maltese-flagged vessels are not afforded the protection of many of the provisions of Maltese law dealing with minimum conditions of employment. In fact, the form, period and conditions of agreements with a crew member of a Maltese-flagged vessel fall outside the scope of the Employment and Industrial Relations Act but are on the other hand governed by the Merchant Shipping Act (Chap. 234 of the Laws of Malta) to the extent that, any terms or conditions adopted by the parties to an employment agreement with a crew member are contrary to the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act in matters relating to wages and conditions of employment of seamen and masters on board ships, the said terms and conditions shall have no effect and the relevant provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act shall apply.

In its constant efforts towards providing a level of protection to seafaring professions, and to improve the social security of workers in seagoing professions, Malta emphasizes the fact that the underlying principle of international maritime law – including EU legislation – when determining the insurability of mariners employed on a vessel flying the flag of a member State should be insured by that State.  Council Regulation (EC) 1408/71 on the application of social security schemes to employed persons, to self-employed persons and to members of their families moving with the EU Community outlines the insurability provisions of mariners employed on board vessels flying the flag of an EU Member State and the resultant entitlement to all benefits paid under all the branches of social security covered by this same Regulation.

Prior to Malta’s accession in the EU, the Merchant Shipping Act and the Social Security Act (Chap. 318 of the Laws of Malta exempted foreign mariners employed on board Maltese flagged ships from the payment of social security contributions in Malta.  Following accession, these same provisions of national legislation have remained in force only for third country nationals employed on board Maltese-flagged ships and residing in a third country.  Mariners residing in an EU Member State – including third country nationals – are now liable to be insured under the Maltese social security system.[3]

With the ever improving shipping facilities in Malta and the resultant expansion of the shipping register, the impact of such a legislation may increase in the future, since this not only means that these mariners would be entitled to social security benefits in terms of the contributions they pay in Malta but also to family benefits and health care costs of the mariners themselves and their family members.