Report on the ECPY French Social Security Conference.

Sarnia Yachts’ Dan Armsden, Yacht & Crew Technical Manager, attended a conference organised by the European Committee for Professional Yachting (ECPY) this month, to stay abreast of the latest developments around French Social Security.

The Background

The recent amendment to the French Social Security legislation means that, as of 1st January 2018, seafarers have three options:

● Affiliation with ENIM (the French Maritime Social Security body).
● Affiliation with an EU/EEA social security system, or a national system which has a bilateral social security agreement with France.
● Join a private social security system offering protection equivalent to the French legislative requirements.

The conference, hosted by the ECPY, WYCC Insurance and Ince & Co, saw three speakers share their knowledge and advice regarding the changes in French Social Security legislation. On the panel were: Thierry Voisin, Director, European Committee for Professional Yachting (ECPY); Mathieu Henry, Sales Director and Product Manager, WYCC; and Amélie de Franssu, Advocate, Ince & Co.

WYCC’s Insurance Product

Mathieu Henry opened proceedings with a brief overview of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and the French Social Security legislative changes. He went on to discuss WYCC’s insurance product, which has been designed to be compliant with the changes in French legislation. The WYCC insurance product is a private social security system which provides seafarers with 8 out of the 9 MLC branches of social security protection, as detailed below. The 9th branch, unemployment benefit, is not a mandatory requirement under the French legislation and is therefore not included in the standard WYCC product or if contributing through ENIM.

● Medical care
● Sickness benefit
● Old-age benefit
● Employment injury benefit
● Family benefit
● Maternity benefit
● Invalidity benefit
● Survivors’ benefit
Hoping to Limit the Impact 

Highlighting the ECPY’s role in the yachting industry, Thierry Voisin explained the actions they have taken and are currently taking to limit the impact of the French Social Security legislation on the yachting industry. The ECPY are in discussions with Maritime Affairs to obtain official approval that the WYCC insurance product is a suitable alternative to registration with ENIM. The slow progress has prompted the ECPY to start a campaign putting pressure on the department to gain approval faster. Thierry Voisin also indicated that a change might be made to the wording of the recent amendment to the legislation. The amendment, introduced on 1st January 2018, permits the use of private systems offering ‘equivalent’ protection to the cover required under the French Social Security legislation. Equivalent protection is difficult to determine, so it has been proposed that this be changed to ‘similar’ protection, allowing more flexibility for private systems to be deemed suitable.

Seeking Clarity: Seafarer’s Three-Month Residency Trigger

Amélie de Franssu spoke of how Ince & Co are seeking clarity from the French authorities regarding the three-month deemed residency trigger. As it stands, if a seafarer spends three consecutive months in French territory (ashore or onboard) they may be considered to be a French resident for social security purposes. Ince & Co are seeking confirmation on whether the seafarer can follow the same basis as a yacht operating under Temporary Admission: leave France just before the end of each three month period, stay a night in a neighbouring country, then return to France and reset the three-month clock. It is hoped clarity will be obtained as to whether such time spent onboard a yacht afloat, or even time spent working in a yard during a refit or new build, can deem a seafarer a French resident. A second angle being pursued by Ince & Co is whether a seafarer that holds a seaman’s discharge book issued by another country can be deemed a French resident for social security purposes.

Questions Raised by the Audience:

Is WYCC’s product an acceptable alternative to registration with the ENIM?

All three panel members believe that, yes, it is acceptable as it offers the same eight branches of social security protection as ENIM, although admittedly its cover does differ in areas. Ince & Co suggested that each yacht using the WYCC product should hold a certificate, which WYCC will provide, stating the level of cover available and its similarities to ENIM.

How will compliance with the legislation be controlled?

Ince & Co advised that ENIM does not intend to carry out any controlled inspections for the time being, and neither does Maritime Affairs, as stated by ECPY. It is also unlikely that Port State Control will carry out social security inspections. The main risk is French resident crew filing a complaint with ENIM against their employer or shipowner for not affiliating them for social security protection.

Will seafarers still be covered after their employment has ended?

Being an insurance product, the WYCC cover would stop as soon as the seafarer’s employment ended. The seafarer has the option to continue to contribute to the system to keep all cover in place. However, under a state system such as ENIM, the seafarer would be covered after employment and without making any further contributions until they obtained their next employment.

Are there any issues with affiliation to ENIM?

A point was raised by a yacht management company about the ENIM medical cover only being available in the EU and in countries with a reciprocal agreement with France. Therefore owners will most likely need to hold suitable crew medical insurance as well as making contributions through ENIM.  An Australian national French resident shared her frustrations regarding her failed attempt to register with ENIM due to not being able to provide a French utility bill. This is likely to be a very common problem for most yacht crew, who rarely have a fixed abode.

Do temporary crew who work for short periods of time onboard need to register for social security protection?

The key point here is if the crew member is not a French resident, they only become deemed a French resident, and therefore subject to French Social Security legislation, after they have spent three consecutive months in French territory. The employer would only need to register the seafarer at this point, not necessarily at the start of the employment. French resident temporary crew would need social security protection from the start of employment.

When will other countries such as Italy and Spain follow suit to level the playing field?

A French resident seafarer raised this point as he is concerned about being difficult to employ due to the French legislation. Unfortunately, at this time nobody knows when this will happen, but it is anticipated that such countries may follow within the next five years if the ILO applies pressure to other member states. The conference was well attended with around 180 people present. There still isn’t a perfect solution for the majority of affected yachts. Industry professionals continue to seek clarity and are working hard to come up with a suitable solution to benefit both crew and owners.

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